Artificial intelligence (AI) and emerging technologies (ET) are poised to transform modern society in profound ways. As with electricity in the last century, AI is an enabling technology that will animate everyday products and communications, endowing everything from cars to cameras with the ability to interact with the world around them, and with each other. These developments are just the beginning, and as AI/ET matures, it will have sweeping impacts on our work, security, politics, and very lives.
These technologies are already impacting the world around us, as Darrell West and I wrote in our April 2018 piece “How artificial intelligence is transforming the world,” and I highly recommend that anyone just discovering the topic of AI policy read it thoroughly. There, Darrell and I describe several important implications related to AI/ET, but chief among them is that these technology developments are on the cusp of ushering in a true revolution in human affairs at an increasingly fast pace.
As AI continues to influence and shape existing industries and allows new ones to take root, its macro-level impact, particularly in the realm of economics, will become more and more apparent. Control over the research and development of AI will become increasingly vital, and the winners of this upcoming AI-defined era in human history will be the countries and companies that can create the most powerful algorithms, assemble the most talent, collect the most data, and marshal the most computing power. This is the next great technology race of our generation and the stakes are high, particularly for the United States. If American society is to embrace the full range of social and political changes that these technologies will introduce, then it is the education and training we provide our youth and workers that will fuel the engines of future AI, and therefore geopolitical success.
It is the education and training we provide our youth and workers that will fuel the engines of future AI, and therefore geopolitical success.
I’ve studied and written extensively about the effects of AI/ET on the evolving character of war toward a concept I’ve called hyperwar—or, a new era of warfare in which, through AI, the speed of decision-making is faster than anything that has come before. At a superficial level, this topic often devolves into a discussion of “killer robots,” or at the very least, the impending use of AI in lethal autonomous weaponry. While those discussions are relevant and inextricably linked, they represent a narrow understanding of the greater issues at hand. The concern over AI’s potential or theoretical military applications must not distract us from how far-reaching the impact of AI will be in nearly all other policy domains. Health care, education, agriculture, energy, finance, and yes, national security, will all be reshaped in some way by AI—with education being the pivot point around which the future of the United States revolves. This is not solely a matter of social redress, but, in fact, a larger national issue.
A future in which the United States is second in the race for AI technology would create a situation of national technological and digital/cyber inferiority, which could in turn result in national strategic subservience.
The way we use education to prepare our next generation of leaders will directly determine whether the U.S. retains its leadership in critical fields of relevance in the emerging digital environment. Without a sufficiently educated population and workforce, the U.S. likely will slip behind other states for whom AI/ET is not only meant for improved social organization, but for strategic superiority, and ultimately digital and physical conquest. A future in which the United States is second in the race for AI technology would create a situation of national technological and digital/cyber inferiority, which could, in turn, result in national strategic subservience—something simply unimaginable.
Many Americans grew up with the understanding that the American capacity to fight and win a nuclear war was defined by its superiority in the Strategic Triad, the three legs of our strategic deterrence: our missile squadrons, our bomber fleet, and our ballistic missile submarines. Behind that dizzying array of hardware was the undisputed power of U.S. intellectual and technical capabilities, and behind that was a near unlimited supply of talented engineers, each trained by a system of education undisputed in its excellence. That system was built from the ground up to produce crucial STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) protégés in the quantities needed to ensure American strategic superiority, which contributed directly to the U.S. and its allies prevail in the Cold War. For the health of our American way of life, our competitive advantage, and the strategic security of our nation, the basis for tomorrow’s system of education must reflect a deliberately tuned and calibrated system that proactively emphasizes AI/ET, big data analytics, and super-computing.
Unfortunately, in both relative and absolute terms, the U.S. is falling behind in the race for superiority in these key technologies. Where the U.S. strategic advantage of the 20th Century was secured by American nuclear superiority, U.S. superiority in the 21st Century will likely be preserved, safeguarded, and sustained through a system of education that envisages the changes necessary and sufficient to embrace and apply relevant technologies. It will also be underwritten by educators who grasp the profound shifts in the pedagogical skills essential to the educational needs of the 21st Century.