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Eric Schmidt-led council: US dominance in AI is 'under threat'

The former Google CEO raises alarm about the US' preparedness for a world run by artificial intelligence.

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Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt now chairs the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence.

James Martin/CNET

The US is in danger of ceding its dominant position in artificial intelligence, according to a new report from the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence. The group, led by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, filed a 756-page report this week warning that the US is at risk of falling behind other countries.

"For the first time since World War II, America's technological predominance -- the backbone of its economic and military power -- is under threat," the report states. "China possesses the might, talent, and ambition to surpass the United States as the world's leader in AI in the next decade if current trends do not change. Simultaneously, AI is deepening the threat posed by cyber attacks and disinformation campaigns that Russia, China, and others are using to infiltrate our society, steal our data, and interfere in our democracy." 

Read more: The US, China and the AI arms race: Cutting through the hype

It adds that "the limited uses of AI-enabled attacks to date represent the tip of the iceberg," while "global crises exemplified by the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change highlight the need to expand our conception of national security and find innovative AI-enabled solutions."

Schmidt chairs the group, with former US Secretary of Defense Robert Work serving as vice chair. The report was crafted for the president and Congress by a group that includes incoming Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, Oracle CEO Safra Catz, Microsoft Chief Scientific Officer Eric Horvitz, former FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and Andrew Moore, head of Google Cloud AI.

"As a bipartisan commission of 15 technologists, national security professionals, business executives, and academic leaders, the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence is delivering an uncomfortable message," Schmidt and Work wrote in an accompanying letter. "America is not prepared to defend or compete in the AI era. This is the tough reality we must face. And it is this reality that demands comprehensive, whole-of-nation action."

They recommend the creation of a "Technology Competitiveness Council" that would "build a strategy that accounts for the complex security, economic, and scientific challenges of AI and its associated technologies," as well as a "new Digital Service Academy and civilian National Reserve to grow tech talent with the same seriousness of purpose that we grow military officers."

Schmidt and Work also recommend federal investment to boost microchip fabrication domestically and $32 billion to "to expand and democratize federal AI" research and development, equating the spending to the creation of the Interstate Highway System. 

"This is not a time for abstract criticism of industrial policy or fears of deficit spending to stand in the way of progress," they wrote. "In 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower, a fiscally conservative Republican, worked with a Democratic Congress to commit $10 billion to build the Interstate Highway System. That is $96 billion in today's world. 

"Surely we can make a similar investment in the nation's future."