“That’s a dead armadillo,” I said pointing with my finger as my arm hung out the car door window. Back in the day, my dad would take our family on vacation drives along iconic Route 66. We drove for hours during the day, stopping at bizarre roadside attractions, and sleeping the night in one of those TeePee motels. Every summer it was the same drive. The same attractions. Same lodging. The only thing that changed was the kind of roadkill, lifeless flattened animal bodies, that my sister and I would try to identify as we motored along. As much as they were all different, they were all the same. Their tiny bodies were slower to move than the massive cars and trucks plowing along the highway. They never had a chance.
America faces a similar challenge in our desire to navigate across the competitive roadscapes leading towards an artificially intelligent driven world. As a country, America stands at the slide of a heavily travelled global AI highway, tepidly stepping out into strategic traffic and then back onto the tactical breakdown lane. Back to a slow pace and a safer place. All the while, massive AI achievements are zipping by from other countries with amazing speed. Pushing us further back onto the side of the road. Keeping us from make our move. Giving us a false sense of safety. All the while keeping us from a lumbering move that would most likely have us end up like the dead armadillo of my childhood day.
America is dangerously lagging other parts of the world when it comes to treating AI as a strategic asset. For example, China seeks to dominate the global AI industry. We do not. They are treating development of AI as an arms race, building massive government supported industries that drive toward their strategic endgame – own AI, around the world, and have the resources to support it. We have no stated strategy. To support their strategic goals, to win the inevitable zero sum competitive games with America, China has release a national AI development strategy. This set of capabilities, partners, and alliances that will guide their goals to develop a China-centric $23B AI industry by 2020 and a $59B industry by 2025. Local and state governments are also supporting this strategy, creating educational and delivery alliance partners. China’s 1.4 billion population is a data gold mine for building AI. For China, this is national strategic initiative. A Pax Americana of Asia AI. We don’t have one. They do. That’s an America problem. A strategic problem.
Lack of a national strategic program is important because AI is a unique strategic resource. It is not like oil, water, or food. Traditional strategic resources do not beget more of those resource. Having a reserve of oil does not in itself generate more oil. These resources are finite and consumed. AI is different. AI produces more AI. AI is an exothermic resource, generating more than it consumes. It produces more knowledge, more insights, more advantages for the user. Having a strategic AI lead means one can produce more AI in the future, faster than those that don’t have it or are just starting.
John Boyd, a United States Air Force Colonel, studies the tactical effects of strategically out thinking your enemy. He determined that when one operates at a faster tempo or rhythm than the adversary, you will win and they loose in a zero sum competitive game. AI is a catalyst for faster tempos and rhythms. But unlike other processes, like the OODA that Boyd studied, AI exponentially improves its results with each cycle, each evolution. This limits effective counter attacks, limits effective transformations that could equalize future competitive engagements. He who owns AI, owns the world.
America needs a National AI Strategy (NAiS). We need to treat AI as a strategic resource; just as we do with oil, uranium, and electricity. We need to have a clear endgame that results in us driving AI, in all places, and having the resources to sustain it. America needs to build bigger and badder AI capabilities than our enemies, whoever they are and wherever they exist. We need to create effective AI partnerships and strong dominating AI alliances. We need to gain the strength to dominate the AI roadscape. Sustain a faster AI tempo. Doing anything less will be catastrophic. Doing less will jeopardize our way of life. Doing less could have our children one day saying, “Look daddy, is that American leadership that is dead on the side of the AI superhighway?”