Artificial Intelligence and National Security: The Importance of the AI Ecosystem

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Artificial intelligence (AI) has profound potential to affect the balance of power in both the global economy and in military competition. While AI has a long history, AI has begun to deliver results within the last decade, particularly with the recent rapid progress in machine learning and the increased availability of data and computing power. As impactful as the recent progress has been, AI remains highly problem-specific and context-dependent. It has proven extremely challenging to translate the progress in some fields to others, even those that are closely related. Enthusiasm in both the public and private sectors has obscured the importance of building the robust supporting capabilities for AI—an AI ecosystem—that are crucial to successful AI adoption. The AI ecosystem includes a skilled workforce and knowledgeable management; the digital capability for capturing, handling, and exploiting data; the technical foundation of trust, security, and reliability; and the investment environment and policy framework needed for AI to flourish. The government retains role in pursuing the harder areas of technology that do not deliver rapid returns on investment for the private sector; developing the tools required to establish AI reliability (including trust, explainability, validation, verification, and security) for critical government and national security applications; and developing and strengthening the AI ecosystem. This study presents the key steps to be taken to facilitate the successful integration of AI into national security applications based on an accurate understanding of where the AI field currently stands and what key factors are involved in successful AI adoption and management.

Lindsey R. Sheppard is an associate fellow with the International Security Program at CSIS. Andrew P. Hunter is a senior fellow in the International Security Program and director of the Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group at CSIS.

This report is made possible by the generous support from Thales USA, Inc.

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Andrew Philip Hunter

Lindsey R. Sheppard

Robert Karlen

Leonardo Balieiro