NATIONAL SECURITY COMMISSION ON ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE FINAL REPORT
Letter from the Chair and Vice Chair
Dr. Eric Schmidt, Chair
Hon. Robert O. Work, Vice Chair
Americans have not yet grappled with just how profoundly the artificial intelligence (AI) revolution will impact our economy, national security, and welfare. Much remains to be learned about the power and limits of AI technologies. Nevertheless, big decisions need to be made now to accelerate AI innovation to benefit the United States and to defend against the malign uses of AI.
When considering these decisions, our leaders confront the classic dilemma of statecraft identified by Henry Kissinger: “When your scope for action is greatest, the knowledge on which you can base this action is always at a minimum. When your knowledge is greatest, the scope for action has often disappeared.” The scope for action remains, but America’s room for maneuver is shrinking.
As a bipartisan commission of 15 technologists, national security professionals, business executives, and academic leaders, the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI) is delivering an uncomfortable message: 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. Our final report presents a strategy to defend against AI threats, responsibly employ AI for national security, and win the broader technology competition for the sake of our prosperity, security, and welfare. The U.S. government cannot do this alone. It needs committed partners in industry, academia, and civil society. And America needs to enlist its oldest allies and new partners to build a safer and freer world for the AI era.
AI is an inspiring technology. It will be the most powerful tool in generations for benefiting humanity. Scientists have already made astonishing progress in fields ranging from biology and medicine to astrophysics by leveraging AI. These advances are not science fair experiments; they are improving life and unlocking mysteries of the natural world. They are the kind of discoveries for which the label “game changing” is not a cliché.
AI systems will also be used in the pursuit of power. We fear AI tools will be weapons of first resort in future conflicts. AI will not stay in the domain of superpowers or the realm of science fiction. AI is dual-use, often open-source, and diffusing rapidly. State adversaries are already using AI-enabled disinformation attacks to sow division in democracies and jar our sense of reality. States, criminals, and terrorists will conduct AI-powered cyber attacks and pair AI software with commercially available drones to create “smart weapons.” It is no secret that America’s military rivals are integrating AI concepts and platforms to challenge the United States’ decades-long technology advantage. We will not be able to defend against AI-enabled threats without ubiquitous AI capabilities and new warfighting paradigms. We want the men and women in national security departments and agencies to have access to the best technology in the world to defend themselves and us, and to protect our interests and those of our allies and partners.
Despite exciting experimentation and a few small AI programs, the U.S. government is a long way from being “AI-ready.” The Commission’s business leaders are most frustrated by slow government progress because they know it’s possible for large institutions to adopt AI. AI integration is hard in any sector—and the national security arena poses some unique challenges. Nevertheless, committed leaders can drive change. We need those leaders in the Pentagon and across the Federal Government to build the technical infrastructure and connect ideas and experimentation to new concepts and operations. By 2025, the Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community must be AI-ready.
We should embrace the AI competition. Competition already infuses the quests for data, computing power, and the holy grail: the rare talent to make AI breakthroughs. The fact that AI courses through so many adjacent technologies and is leveraged across so many fields explains its power and leads inexorably to another critical point: AI is part of a broader global technology competition. Competition will speed up innovation. We should race together with partners when AI competition is directed at the moonshots that benefit humanity like discovering vaccines. But we must win the AI competition that is intensifying strategic competition with China. China’s plans, resources, and progress should concern all Americans. It is an AI peer in many areas and an AI leader in some applications. We take seriously China’s ambition to surpass the United States as the world’s AI leader within a decade.
The AI competition is also a values competition. China’s domestic use of AI is a chilling precedent for anyone around the world who cherishes individual liberty. Its employment of AI as a tool of repression and surveillance—at home and, increasingly, abroad—is a powerful counterpoint to how we believe AI should be used. The AI future can be democratic, but we have learned enough about the power of technology to strengthen authoritarianism abroad and fuel extremism at home to know that we must not take for granted that future technology trends will reinforce rather than erode democracy. We must work with fellow democracies and the private sector to build privacy-protecting standards into AI technologies and advance democratic norms to guide AI uses so that democracies can responsibly use AI tools for national security purposes.
We would like to emphasize a few areas where action is necessary because the stakes of the competition are so high:
Ultimately, we have a duty to convince the leaders in the U.S. government to make the hard decision and make the down payment to win the AI era. In America, the buck stops with the President, and AI strategy starts in the White House. We built a National Security Council to confront the challenges of the post–World War II era. Now we need to create a Technology Competitiveness Council to build a strategy that accounts for the complex security, economic, and scientific challenges of AI and its associated technologies. That leadership imperative extends into all critical national security departments and agencies.
The human deficit is the government’s most conspicuous AI deficit and the single greatest inhibitor to buying, building, and fielding AI-enabled technologies for national security purposes. This is not a time to add a few new positions in national security departments and agencies for Silicon Valley technologists and call it a day. We need to build entirely new talent pipelines from scratch. We should establish a new Digital Service Academy and civilian National Reserve to grow tech talent with the same seriousness of purpose that we grow military officers. The digital age demands a digital corps. Just as importantly, the United States needs to win the international talent competition by improving STEM education and our highly skilled immigration system.
Microelectronics power all AI, and the United States no longer manufactures the world’s most sophisticated chips. We do not want to overstate the precariousness of our position, but given that the vast majority of cutting-edge chips are produced at a single plant separated by just 110 miles of water from our principal strategic competitor, we must reevaluate the meaning of supply chain resilience and security. A recent chip shortage for auto manufacturing cost an American car company an estimated $2.5 billion. A strategic blockage would cost far more and put our security at risk. The federal investment and incentives needed to revitalize domestic microchip fabrication—perhaps $35 billion—should be an easy decision when the alternative is relying on another country to produce the engines that power the machines that will shape the future.
We worry that only a few big companies and powerful states will have the resources to make the biggest AI breakthroughs. Despite the diffusion of open-source tools, the needs for computing power and troves of data to improve algorithms are soaring at the cutting edge of innovation. The federal government must partner with U.S. companies to ensure America leads the world and to support development of diverse AI applications that advance the national interest in the broadest sense. If anything, this report underplays the investments America will need to make. The $40 billion we recommend to expand and democratize federal AI R&D is a modest down payment on future breakthroughs. We will also need to build secure digital infrastructure across the nation, shared cloud computing access, and smart cities to truly leverage AI for the benefit of all Americans. We envision hundreds of billions in federal spending in the coming years.
This is not a time for abstract criticism of industrial policy or fears of deficit spending to stand in the way of progress. 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.
We are proud of the NSCAI’s bipartisan work. We have debated together, learned together, and achieved consensus on critical points. It is our privilege to submit our recommendations to Congress and the President. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, we are at the beginning of the beginning of the competition that will shape our prosperity, national security, and the well-being of our citizens. Our report presents the first steps the United States should take to defend, compete, and win in the AI era.