Russia’s Artificial Intelligence Boom May Not Survive the War

The past year has been a busy one for Russia’s military and civilian efforts in artificial intelligence. Moscow has poured money into research and development, and Russian civil society has debated the country’s place in the broader AI ecosystem. But Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in February and the resulting sanctions halted many of those efforts and called into question how many of his AI advances Russia will be able to salvage and continue.

Ever since Putin touted the development of robotic combat systems in the new state weapons program in 2020, the Russian Defense Ministry has focused on AI. We learned more about the Russian military’s focus on AI over the past year through several public disclosures.

But talk of AI has been muted since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Other than the widespread use of drones for reconnaissance and target acquisition and the single display of a mine-clearing robot, all remotely operated, there is no clear evidence of Russian AI in the C4ISR or decision-making among Russian military forces. , other than a single public deepfake attempt to discredit the Ukrainian government. That doesn’t mean AI isn’t being used, given how Ukrainians are now using artificial intelligence in data analysis, but there’s a noticeable absence of broader discussion about this technology in Russian open source media.

The gap between Russian military aspirations for the high-tech warfare of the future and actual warfare today is becoming clear. In January 2021, Colonel-General Vladimir Zarudnitsky, head of the Military Academy of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, wrote that the development and use of unmanned and autonomous military systems, the “robotization” of all spheres of armed conflict and the development of AI for robotics will have the greatest medium-term effect on the ability of the Russian Armed Forces to meet their future challenges. Other MOD military experts also discussed the impact of these emerging technologies on the Russian military and the future balance of forces. Russia continued to upgrade and replace Soviet-made systems, as part of the MOD’s transition from “digitalization” (weapons with modern information technologies for C4ISR) to “intellectualization” ( widespread implementation of AI capable of performing human-like creative thinking functions). These and other developments were discussed in detail at the Russian “Army-2021” conference, with AI being a key component of C4ISR at the tactical and strategic levels.

Meanwhile, Russian military developers and researchers have been working on several AI-based robotics projects, including the concept of the “Marker” unmanned ground vehicle and its autonomous operation in groups and with drones.

Towards the end of 2021, the state agency responsible for exporting Russian military technology even announced its intention to offer unmanned aviation, robotics and high-tech products with elements of intelligence this year. artificial to potential customers. The agency stressed that the equipment is geared towards defensive, border protection and counter-terrorism capabilities.

Since the invasion, things have changed. Russia’s defense industrial complex, particularly research and development in military high-tech and AI, could be affected by international sanctions and the cascading effects of Russia’s shutdown of imports of semi- drivers and microprocessors.

Throughout 2021, the Russian government has pushed for the adoption of its civil AI initiatives across the country, such as national hackathons aimed at different age groups with the aim of introducing artificial intelligence to home, at work and at school. The government has also pushed for the digital transformation of science and higher education, emphasizing the development of AI, big data and the Internet of Things.

Russian university R&D efforts in AI have led to predictive analytics; development of chatbots that process text and voice messages and resolve user issues without human intervention; and technologies for working with biometric data. The development of facial recognition technology in Russia has continued apace, with key efforts taking place in Moscow and other major cities. AI as a key tool for image recognition and data analysis has been used in many medical projects and efforts dealing with large data sets.

Russian government officials noted their country’s efforts to promote the ethics of artificial intelligence and expressed confidence in Russia’s continued participation in this UN-sponsored work. The Russian Council for the Development of the Digital Economy has officially called for a ban on artificial intelligence algorithms that discriminate against people.

The Russian Ministry of Economic Development has been instructed to “create a mechanism for assessing the humanitarian impact of the consequences of the introduction of such [AI] technologies, including in the provision of state and municipal services to citizens”, and to prepare a “roadmap” for effective regulation, use and implementation. According to the council, citizens should be able to appeal AI decisions digitally, and such a complaint should only be reviewed by a human. The council also proposed to develop legal mechanisms to compensate for the damage caused through the use of AI.

In October, the main Russian information and communication companies adopted the National Code of Ethics in the field of AI; the code has been recommended to all players in the AI ​​market, including governments, companies, Russian and foreign developers. Among the basic principles of the code are a human-centered approach to the development of this technology and the safety of working with data.

AI workforce development was set as a key requirement when the government officially unveiled the national AI roadmap in 2019. A 2021 government survey that attempted to gauge the level of trust in the government’s AI efforts showed that only around 64% of domestic AI specialists were satisfied with working conditions in Russia.

The survey reflected the microcosm of AI research, development, testing and evaluation in Russia – many government activities and different efforts that did not automatically translate into a productive ecosystem conducive to AI development. ‘IA, despite some major efforts.

Among some of the reasons in 2021 for which Russia was lagging behind in the development of artificial intelligence technologies were the shortage of personnel and the weakness of the venture capital market. The community of civilian developers also noted the low penetration of Russian products in foreign markets, dependence on imports, the slow introduction of products in enterprises and government bodies, and a weak connection between theory and practice. of AI.

Russia’s likely plans to focus on these areas in 2022 were revised or suspended once Russia invaded Ukraine. The sudden withdrawal of large IT and high-tech companies from Russia, coupled with a rapid brain drain of Russian IT workers, and ever-increasing high-tech sanctions against the Russian state could hamper domestic research and development in of AI for years. come. As the Russian government tries to support its AI and high-tech industry with subsidies, funding and legislative support, the impact of the aforementioned consequences could be too great for the Russian AI ecosystem, always growing and evolving. This does not mean that the research and development of AI will stop – on the contrary, many trends, efforts and inventions of 2021 are implemented in the Russian economy and society in 2022, and there are companies national high-tech and public-private partnerships that are trying to fill the void left by deceased global IT majors. But the effects of the invasion will be felt in the AI ​​ecosystem for a long time to come, especially with so many IT workers leaving the country, either due to the massive impact on the economy of high technology, either because they don’t agree with war, or both.

One of the most felt consequences of the sanctions has been the breakdown of international cooperation on AI between Russian universities and research instructions, which was previously enshrined as one of the most important drivers of national R&D in IA, and reinforced by the support of the Kremlin. For most tech institutions around the world, the impact of civilian destruction across Ukraine by the Russian military far outweighs the need to engage Russia on AI. At the same time, much of Russia’s military AI R&D has taken place in a siled environment – in many cases behind a classified firewall and without significant public-private cooperation – so it is difficult to estimate how much the sanctions will affect Russian military AI efforts.

While many Russians now see China as a substitute for defunct global trade relations and products, it is unclear whether Beijing could fully replace the software and hardware products and services that have left Russian markets at this point.

Recent events may not stop Russian civilians and military experts from discussing how AI influences the conduct of war and peace, but the practical implementation of these deliberations may become more increasingly difficult for a country isolated from global high technology.

Samuel Bendett is Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security and Advisor to the CNA Corporation.


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