Efforts to develop AI in the Russian military

This blog entry is written by CNA Russia Program team member Sam Bendett to highlight the current Russian efforts to develop artificial intelligence.

On September 1, 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin drew attention of the international high-tech and military community by stating that the country that gets to master artificial intelligence (AI) will “get to rule the world.” He also remarked that artificial intelligence is “humanity’s future.” Although the size and scale of overall investment on AI development in Russia is small relative to American or Chinese efforts, Russia’s private sector spending in this field is projected to increase significantly in the coming years. Russia may represent only a fraction of global investment in developing AI, but the government is seeking to marshal national resources to make the country one the “AI superpowers” of the future.

The majority of Russian AI development plans are long-term, with intellectual and technical capital organized into several lines of effort. Many of these projects are done under the auspices of the Russian Ministry of Defense (MOD) and its affiliate institutions, research centers, and industrial conglomerates. Several efforts merit closer attention – they may determine whether the government proves successful in engaging the national resource base for breakthroughs in Artificial Intelligence:

    • The Foundation for Advanced Studies (FAS – Фонд перспективных исследований (ФПИ)) was established in October 2012 by presidential decree to serve as Russia’s equivalent to DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Project Agency). The purpose of the Foundation is to “promote the implementation of scientific research and development in the interests of national defense associated with developing and creating innovative technologies.” FAS scientists and researchers are already working on several artificial intelligence and unmanned technology projects.

    • The “Era” military innovation technical city, or “technopolis,” was recently established on the Russian Black Sea coast. This technopolis will be financed by attracting funds from the Foundation for Advanced Studies, as well as from the private investors and enterprises and scientific organizations of the country’s military-industrial base, with the aim to develop defense technologies and innovations, including AI. One of “Era”’s defining characteristics would be its attempt at flexible, start-up style development with the aim of achieving technological results quickly and efficiently.

    • The MOD, together with other Russian government agencies, is hosting annual forums titled “Artificial Intelligence: Problems and Solutions” that aim to discuss domestic AI developments and review international achievements in that field. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has called for Russian civilian and military designers to join forces to develop artificial intelligence technologies to “counter possible threats in the field of technological and economic security of Russia.” This initiative’s most notable result is the publication of the ten-step recommendation “roadmap” for expanding AI research in Russia that outlines public-private partnerships and short to mid-term developments such as education, the establishments of various technical standards, along with specific tasks for the country’s military. One of the roadmap’s most important proposals is to establish a National Center for Artificial Intelligence (NCAI), which would provide a national focus for the use of AI. The NCAI could assist in the “creation of a scientific reserve, the development of an AI innovative infrastructure, and the implementation of theoretical research and promising projects in the field of artificial intelligence and IT technologies.” The Russian Academy of Sciences joined the Foundation for Advanced Studies in putting forth the proposal for the creation of this new center.

Currently, the Russian military is working on incorporating elements of AI in its electronic warfare, missile, aircraft and unmanned systems technologies, with the aim of making battlefield decision-making and targeting faster and more precise. Russian policy makers and military designers are working on integrating elements of AI in unmanned swarm, counter-UAS, and radar warning systems to bolster the nation’s security. In the civilian sector, Russian AI work is focused on image and speech recognition, as well as neural networks and machine learning – achievements that may also be incorporated into the military down the line. The MOD is looking to use AI in data and imagery collection and analysis, seeking to gain certain advantages in the speed and quality of information processing. Another defining characteristic of the current Russian AI efforts is the relative absence of ethics discussion related to the use of artificial intelligence, as the military and society appear to be in agreement that achieving pragmatic results first is paramount to other considerations.

The Russian military’s effort to develop AI has medium to long term implications for the US and its partners. Today, the Russian government and its military are trying new and innovative approaches to advanced technology developments that may yield results relatively quickly, as the Russian President and the MOD are in sync when it comes to understating the need for their nation’s military and industry to improve qualitatively. Developing Artificial Intelligence is one of the ways Moscow intends to compete with Washington as equals – an effort that merits close and deliberate attention.

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