PART II: WINNING THE TECHNOLOGY COMPETITION
Chapter 16: Associated Technologies
Following is a summary of Part II, Chapter 16 of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence's final report. Use the below links to access a PDF version of the Chapter, Blueprint for Action, and the Commission's Full Report.
The Commission’s work ends where it began, with the conclusion that artificial intelligence (AI) will transform virtually every aspect of our existence.
The United States must view its efforts to lead in AI through the broader lens of competition across a range of emerging technologies, and, therefore, also support a comprehensive strategy to sustain U.S. leadership in key associated technologies.
Leadership in AI relies on and drives leadership across a suite of emerging technologies.
AI sits at the center of the constellation of emerging technologies, enabling some and being enabled by others.1 For instance, 5G and quantum computing are poised to enable new growth in AI capabilities, while AI stands to transform the biological sciences, producing significant technological breakthroughs and turning the biotechnology sector into one of the primary drivers of overall economic competitiveness.2
China is pursuing a comprehensive technology leadership strategy.
China’s strategic investments in key sectors through its Made in China 2025 initiative threaten U.S. technological prowess, economic prosperity, and national security.3 In addition to investments in AI, China is seeking to become a world leader in quantum, 5G, and biotech, among other areas, and sees its strategies to lead in AI and each of these other technologies as mutually reinforcing.
The United States has neither identified, nor prioritized leadership in, the technologies that are central to national competitiveness.
The United States must develop a unified list of the technologies that will underpin national competitiveness in the 21st century because the first-mover advantage of developing and deploying technologies like microelectronics, biotechnology, and quantum computing will make it difficult for the United States to catch up to China. The lack of such a list results in disparate funding and policy approaches to technology protection and promotion across the U.S. government.
Ensuring U.S. leadership in the manufacturing of key emerging technology platforms will be an essential component of national competitiveness.
Identifying and supporting research in priority technologies is a necessary but insufficient step to maintain national competitiveness in emerging technologies. The United States will also have to invest in the production of strategic physical elements of these technologies to create game-changing platforms, maximize U.S. competitiveness, and reduce dependencies that create national security vulnerabilities. Such investments are often expensive, but a strategic approach does not require manufacturing every advanced component domestically and will pay tremendous long-term dividends.
Technology leadership will require major new investments in underlying digital infrastructure.
It is impossible to ignore the state of America’s underlying digital infrastructure when considering a strategy to preserve overall U.S. leadership in technology. The sophistication and reach of the core U.S. digital infrastructure that underpins connectivity, namely high-speed internet and telecommunications networks, significantly lag behind those of many other developed nations.4 Maximizing citizens’ access to the digital economy, ensuring they have the requisite digital skills, and more closely connecting the physical and digital worlds will be necessary to fuel future growth.
Identifying and Prioritizing Technologies Central to National Competitiveness
While the United States should by no means adopt China’s centrally planned and state-directed economic model, it must start by developing better strategic planning, forecasting, and prioritization of emerging technologies to ensure long-term competitiveness.
The Government Should
Define and prioritize the key emerging technologies that are needed to ensure U.S. national competitiveness.
As part of its National Technology Strategy (see Chapter 9 of this report), the White House should publish a list of critical and emerging technologies in which U.S. leadership is essential. It should develop detailed implementation plans for each sector to determine how the government should best work with industry to promote U.S. leadership, assess which specific subsectors are crucial to national security, and determine what regulatory steps or incentives are necessary to create the required investment environment.
These plans should promote investment in specific platforms that will have a force multiplier effect on U.S. technology leadership, identify key choke points where competitors could potentially be blocked with minimal impact on U.S. industry, and promote supply chain resiliency. The creation and maintenance of such a list and the associated implementation plans will help produce a national consensus across government, industry, and academia about which sectors are most important in the emerging techno-economic competition.
Many similar lists exist throughout the government, but there has been no effort to unify them into a single, authoritative document accompanied by a strategic vision and detailed follow-through actions designed to ensure long-term U.S. leadership.5 However, the significant overlap between these lists demonstrates an emerging national consensus on which technologies are most critical to U.S. national competitiveness.
Actions to Promote Technologies and Platforms Essential to U.S. Leadership and National Security
After reaching consensus on the set of emerging technologies essential to overall U.S. technology leadership, the Executive Branch should assess each sector and identify specific platforms that meet the following criteria:
- Have potential applications of strategic and national security importance;
- Could have a significant impact on overall U.S. technical leadership and competitiveness, either alone or when combined with existing U.S. technical strengths; and
- Require government action to spur or protect its development.
Such platforms could require government support for several reasons. In some instances, a market failure may lead to underinvestment by the private sector in an area of strategic importance to national security. In other instances, seizing a market opportunity may only be possible if the federal government focuses the private sector, academia, and research organizations on a specific goal.
The government must tailor its approach to the context by increasing funding, implementing regulatory changes, or taking other steps aimed at promoting innovation and protecting advantages that fit the circumstances.
The Commission has already presented recommendations to support U.S. leadership in key technology platforms within several of the aforementioned strategic technologies. For example, Chapter 11 of this report recommends establishing a National AI Research Resource, which would create an essential platform to sustain and extend U.S. leadership in AI. Additionally, in Chapter 13 of this report, the Commission provided a series of recommendations for promoting U.S. leadership in microelectronics, including specific actions to incentivize the construction of a leading-edge merchant fabrication facility domestically.
The recommendations below build on the Commission’s previous work and provide further actions the U.S. government could take to promote U.S. leadership in the key associated technologies and platforms that the Commission assesses to be of greatest strategic importance—specifically, biotechnology, quantum computing, 5G and advanced networking, autonomy and robotics, advanced and additive manufacturing, and energy systems.6
Biology is now programmable, and AI’s ability to identify ways to optimize this programming will enable transformational biotechnology breakthroughs. AI was crucial in the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines, allowing researchers to finalize the genetic sequence of a vaccine candidate only two days after the virus’ full genetic sequence was first posted online.7 Computer vision techniques applied to medical imagery have also enabled more accurate and efficient diagnoses.8 And recently, an AI network made substantial progress over the last year toward solving one of biology’s most daunting challenges: determining a protein’s 3D shape from its amino-acid sequence.9
Tools such as these will become even more powerful in combination with synthetic biology and gene editing. Together they will enhance human health by allowing deeper studies of the building blocks of life and enabling the quicker discovery and fabrication of more advanced drugs and materials. As AI fuels rapid new developments in the biological sciences and biotechnology becomes a greater driver of the overall world economy, the strategic consequences of ceding leadership in biotechnology will increase significantly—a fact that the COVID-19 pandemic illustrates in clear and stark terms.
The Government Should
Prioritize the development of an advanced domestic biotechnology R&D ecosystem.
As part of a national bioeconomy strategy, the United States should support the development of biotechnology platforms that maximize researchers’ ability to utilize AI to drive new biological breakthroughs and help transition advanced research into physical products at scale. This will necessitate support for both world-class biodata resources to fully harness the power of AI and biomanufacturing platforms to rapidly realize the benefits from analytical breakthroughs:
Biodata: The United States should fund and prioritize efforts to build a world-class biobank containing a wide range of high-quality biological and genetic data sets securely accessible by researchers.
Biomanufacturing: The United States should support efforts to diversify and expand the biotechnology industry beyond its current vertically integrated models and encourage the development of multiple standardized, merchant biofabrication facilities.
As the pace of innovation predicted by Moore’s Law becomes increasingly difficult for semiconductor manufacturers to maintain due to the physical limits of microchip design, leadership in next-generation computer hardware will be essential to preserving long-term U.S. advantages in strategic technologies like AI.10 Although classical computers will likely remain the most economical way of performing day-to-day computational tasks in the near future, quantum computers have the potential to outperform their classical counterparts on certain classes of problems related to machine learning (ML) and optimization, the simulation of physical systems, and the collection and transfer of sensitive information.
For example, quantum computers may be able to efficiently optimize military logistics or discover new materials for weapon systems.11 Each of these applications creates novel national security threats and opportunities at the intersection of AI and quantum computing.
The Government Should
Transition from basic research to national security applications of quantum computing and incentivize domestic fabrication.
The United States is a global leader in research of quantum computers, but it risks losing its edge in applications to national security. Recognizing that advances in quantum computing may drive advances in AI, the United States must establish trusted sources of materials and components for quantum computers, invest in the development of hybrid quantum-classical algorithms, and focus on fielding of national security applications. Offering access to both classical and quantum computers through the National AI Research Resource will facilitate the development of hybrid quantum-classical algorithms that leverage noisy intermediate-scale quantum computers. Publicly announcing specific government use cases of quantum computers will signal that a market exists for national security applications and encourage further investment by the private sector.
5G and Advanced Networking
5G networks will form the connective tissue between AI platforms, which means maintaining access to trusted and robust 5G networks is a critical component of overall leadership in AI. Huawei is pursuing global dominance in 5G, and there is no single supplier that can compete with it in terms of both price and quality. Due to the urgency of the issue, the United States should pursue several complementary approaches concurrently to ramp up deployment of 5G domestically and provide a credible alternative to Huawei. As a starting point, any comprehensive effort should include support for dynamic spectrum sharing.12
The Government Should
Bolster and accelerate U.S. 5G network deployment through mid-band spectrum sharing.
Expanding spectrum-sharing efforts is critical to ensuring that the Department of Defense (DoD) maintains access to spectrum essential for operational effectiveness while broadening commercial access to spectrum for 5G networks. A multi-agency effort is needed to expand sharing arrangements and licenses and permit additional portions of the mid-band to be simultaneously utilized by DoD and commercial carriers. Through this portfolio approach, the United States stands the best chance of accelerating its 5G deployment at a pace that can support the widespread adoption of AI.
Autonomy and Robotics
Autonomous systems are already unlocking value across global markets. In the private sector, they enable products ranging from expert advisory systems and self-driving vehicles to manufacturing. In the realm of national security, autonomous systems generate opportunities to reduce the number of warfighters in harm’s way, increase the pace and quality of decisions, and create entirely new military capabilities.13 The ability to design and produce the hardware and software for advanced robotics is an essential part of autonomous systems.
The Government Should
Incentivize the development of world-class software platforms for robotic and autonomous systems.
The future of autonomy and robotics will manifest in almost unlimited shapes and sizes as firms develop and tailor robots for different use cases and environments. The U.S. trails nations such as China, Japan, and South Korea in the deployment of robots and robotic hardware and must work to improve its capabilities in such areas as materials design and energy storage for robots.20 However, U.S. expertise in software development lends itself to creating a world-class digital platform for many classes of robotic hardware. The software powering robotic systems will be built upon several core capabilities rooted in AI: It will need to be able to sense its environment, reason, and operate in the world around it.14
In creating cutting-edge software for these types of capabilities, there is an opportunity for U.S. firms to win the market for the software platforms that power the next wave of industrialization.15 To promote U.S. leadership in the development of software for autonomous systems, the U.S. government should fuel industry’s ongoing efforts by supplementing the basic R&D, standard-setting, and data-sharing programs led by National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)’s Intelligent Systems Division.16
It should also incentivize early adoption of automation and create markets for autonomous systems in areas already ripe for them, such as mail sorting, that will yield data and experience relevant for achieving scale and addressing adjacent markets.17 Combined, a multi-pronged approach along these lines would position industry to compete more effectively in the market for autonomous system software, a strategically important area aligned with existing U.S. technical strengths.
Advanced and Additive Manufacturing
The capacity to produce high-tech goods domestically is critical to national security, both to maintain access to finished goods and as a driver of innovation. In terms of access, the United States must strive for self-reliance in industries that are critical to national security or that would take too long to regenerate in the event of protracted conflict.18 Innovation also benefits from a tight feedback loop between technological design and production, which allows for more rapid iteration.19 This link is particularly important in the defense sector, where feedback from the manufacturing process back into the R&D cycle helps bring technology from lab to military operations.
Longer-term disruptions to the manufacturing industry through new techniques such as additive manufacturing also pose threats and opportunities for national security. For example, additive manufacturing may enable a step-change in domestic manufacturing capabilities, but it also creates new threats by potentially democratizing the production of firearms and other goods with military applications.20
The Government Should
Accelerate additive manufacturing production of legacy parts across the DoD.
Additive manufacturing and 3D printing have the potential to transform manufacturing. They are capable of rapid, high-quality, and complex production, and they are flexible enough that 3D printers may be able to be located near the point of need for just-in-time production.21 Although current additive manufacturing techniques struggle to replicate the quality of advanced traditional manufacturing techniques, AI has already shown the ability to enable significant improvements in their accuracy.22 The Federal Government should proactively support initiatives that advance the development of additive manufacturing techniques and also provide practical benefits by easing the production of legacy items.23 The DoD should announce a goal of identifying all legacy parts in active weapon systems that are capable of being produced via additive manufacturing and 3D printing and doing so by 2025.
Cheap and reliable access to energy is critical to U.S. national security, whether it be to ensure military readiness, facilitate the response to a domestic crisis, or keep the economy functioning smoothly. As an input to nearly every sector, the price of energy directly impacts economic output and is a key determinant of U.S. national competitiveness. Furthermore, dependence on foreign countries for energy resources and technologies would put the United States in a position of vulnerability, especially if those resources or technologies are controlled by strategic competitors.
Although the United States is at the forefront of the exploration, extraction, and processing of oil and gas and possesses significant domestic reserves, China is far and away the leading producer of renewable energy and is investing heavily in advanced energy storage technologies, such as batteries and their constituent materials.24
To remain competitive, in these critical sectors U.S. industry will need to achieve aggressive cost targets in terms of kilowatts/hour and energy density. This is especially true in markets with the most substantial growth potential, such as long-duration stationary storage devices and battery packs for electric vehicles.25
The Government Should
Develop and domestically manufacture energy storage technologies to meet U.S. market demand by 2030.
Developing new technologies to more effectively store electrical energy so it is readily available whenever and wherever needed would drive advances in electricity transmission and distribution. It would also offer advantages to the United States both economically and strategically. To accelerate breakthroughs in energy storage,26 the Department of Energy has set the ambitious goal of developing and domestically manufacturing storage technologies capable of meeting the entirety of U.S. market demand by 2030.27 Congress should fully fund the federal R&D and establish incentives for commercialization needed to achieve the Department of Energy’s Energy Storage Grand Challenge roadmap by 2030.28
1 Recognizing this connection, Congress included AI and “associated technologies” as they relate to national security within the scope of the Commission’s mandate. 2 The Commission’s first Interim Report identified biotechnology, quantum computing, and 5G as key emerging technologies associated with AI. See Interim Report, NSCAI at 50 (Nov. 2019), https://www.nscai.gov/previous-reports/.
3 Made in China 2025 includes the following sectors: new-generation information technology, high-grade machine tooling and robotics, aviation and aerospace equipment, marine engineering equipment and high-tech ships, advanced rail transportation equipment, new energy automobiles, electric power equipment, agriculture equipment, new materials, and biomedicine and high-tech medical devices. See Alice Tse & Julianna Wu, Why ‘Made in China 2025’ Triggered the Wrath of President Trump, South China Morning Post (Sept. 11, 2018), https://multimedia.scmp.com/news/china/article/made-in-China-2025/index.html.
4 The United States ranks 18th among 37 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries in fixed and mobile broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants and eighth in average broadband speed. Broadband Portal, OECD (July 2020), https://www.oecd.org/sti/broadband/broadband-statistics/ (see “Penetration and data usage” table “1.2 Fixed and mobile broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants” [Dec. 2019] and “Speeds” table “5.2 Akamai average speed” [Q1 2017]).
5 For example, the White House published its National Strategy for Critical and Emerging Technologies in October 2020, which included a list of critical and emerging technologies as identified by Departments and Agencies. The document does not provide detail on how each technology is essential to national competitiveness and lacks a specific plan for promoting and protecting U.S. advantages in each. See National Strategy for Critical and Emerging Technologies, The White House at A-1 (Oct. 2020), https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/National-Strategy-for-CET.pdf?utm_source=morning_brew. In their 2018 report, Michael Brown and Pavneet Singh argue that the lack of a unified list of critical technologies harms the ability of the United States to protect against technology transfer. See Michael Brown & Pavneet Singh, China’s Technology Transfer Strategy, Defense Innovation Unit Experimental at 37 (Jan. 2018), https://admin.govexec.com/media/diux_chinatechnologytransferstudy_jan_2018_(1).pdf.
6 This includes all technologies other than AI on NSCAI’s proposed critical technologies list with the exception of semiconductors, which are addressed separately in Chapter 13 of this report. Elements of AI-enabled biotechnology are also separately addressed in Chapter 1 of this report. Additional recommendations to promote U.S. leadership in biotechnology, quantum computing, and 5G can be found in the Chapter 16 Blueprint for Action.
7 Hannah Mayer, et al., AI Puts Moderna Within Striking Distance of Beating COVID-19, Harvard Business School (Nov. 24, 2020), https://digital.hbs.edu/artificial-intelligence-machine-learning/ai-puts-moderna-within-striking-distance-of-beating-covid-19/; Noah Weiland, et al., Modern Vaccine Is Highly Protective Against Covid-19, the F.D.A. Finds, New York Times (Dec. 18, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/15/health/covid-moderna-vaccine.html. 8 Junfeng Gao, et al., Computer Vision in Healthcare Applications, Journal of Healthcare Engineering (March 4, 2018), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5857319/. 9 Ewen Callaway, ‘It will Change Everything’: DeepMind’s AI Makes Gigantic Leap in Solving Protein Structures, Nature (Nov. 30, 2020), https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-03348-4.
10 Steve Blank, What the GlobalFoundries’ Retreat Really Means, IEEE Spectrum (Sept. 10, 2018), https://spectrum.ieee.org/nanoclast/semiconductors/devices/what-globalfoundries-retreat-really-means.
11 Pontus Vikstål, et al., Applying the Quantum Approximate Optimization Algorithm to the Tail-Assignment Problem, Physical Review Applied, vol. 14, iss. 3 (Sept. 3, 2020), https://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevApplied.14.034009; He Ma, et al., Quantum Simulations of Materials on Near-term Quantum Computers, npj Computational Materials (July 2, 2020), https://doi.org/10.1038/s41524-020-00353-z. 12 The 5G Ecosystem: Risks & Opportunities for DoD, DoD Defense Innovation Board (April 2019), https://media.defense.gov/2019/Apr/03/2002109302/-1/-1/0/DIB_5G_study_04.03.19.pdf. 13 Summer Study on Autonomy, DoD Defense Science Board (June 2016), https://dsb.cto.mil/reports/2010s/DSBSS15.pdf.
14 Advanced materials (such as biological components), brain-computer interfaces, and small and efficient power supplies are additional areas of potential innovation that connect robotics to AI and other associated technologies described in this chapter. 15 For example, core capabilities might include gripping physical objects, which robotics maker ABB and several firms in the U.S. and Europe are currently pursuing. See Jonathan Vanian, Industrial Robotics Giant Teams Up with a Rising A.I. Startup, Fortune (Feb. 25, 2020), https://fortune.com/2020/02/25/industrial-robotics-ai-covariant/. 16 Intelligent Systems Division, NIST (last accessed Jan. 6, 2021), https://www.nist.gov/el/intelligent-systems-division-73500. 17 One specific area to expand demand for autonomous systems could be drastically scaling the U.S. Postal Service’s Autonomous Mobile Robot pilot program from 25 sorting facilities to all sorting facilities by 2025. Autonomous Mobile Robots and the Postal Service, USPS Office of Inspector General (April 9, 2018), https://www.uspsoig.gov/sites/default/files/document-library-files/2019/RARC-WP-18-006.pdf. 18 Critical Technology Accessibility, National Academies Press (2006), https://www.nap.edu/read/11658/chapter/1; see also Assessing and Strengthening the Manufacturing and Defense Industrial Base and Supply Chain Resiliency of the United States, Interagency Taskforce in Fulfillment of Executive Order 13806 at 46 (Sept. 2018), https://media.defense.gov/2018/oct/05/2002048904/-1/-1/1/assessing-and-strengthening-the-manufacturing-and%20defense-industrial-base-and-supply-chain-resiliency.pdf (identifying 10 risk archetypes threatening America’s manufacturing and defense industrial base). 19 Strategy for American Leadership in Advanced Manufacturing, National Science & Technology Council (Oct. 2018), https://trumpwhitehouse.archives.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Advanced-Manufacturing-Strategic-Plan-2018.pdf; Gregory Tassey, Rationales and Mechanisms for Revitalizing US Manufacturing R&D Strategies, NIST (Jan. 29, 2010), https://www.nist.gov/system/files/documents/2017/05/09/manufacturing_strategy_paper_0.pdf.
20 3D Opportunity for Adversaries, Deloitte (Aug. 22, 2017), https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/focus/3d-opportunity/national-security-implications-of-additive-manufacturing.html. 21 Audit of DoD’s Use of Additive Manufacturing for Sustainment Parts, DoD Inspector General (Oct. 17, 2019), https://media.defense.gov/2019/Oct/21/2002197659/-1/-1/1/DODIG-2020-003.pdf. 22 Mark Anderson, 3D Print Jobs Are More Accurate with Machine Learning, IEEE Spectrum (Feb. 19, 2020), https://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/artificial-intelligence/machine-learning/3d-print-jobs-news-accurate-machine-learning. 23 For instance, in August 2020, the DoD printed the first metal part for a B-52 jet engine. Kyle Mizokami, The Old School Engine That Powers the B-52 Gets a 3D-Printed Upgrade, Popular Mechanics (Aug. 10, 2020), https://www.popularmechanics.com/military/aviation/a33535790/air-force-3d-print-metal-part-turbofan-engine/.
24 Robert Rapier, Ten Countries That Dominate World Fossil Fuel Production, Forbes (July 14, 2019), https://www.forbes.com/sites/rrapier/2019/07/14/ten-countries-that-dominate-fossil-fuel-production; Country Rankings, International Renewable Energy Agency (last accessed Jan. 6, 2021), https://www.irena.org/Statistics/View-Data-by-Topic/Capacity-and-Generation/Country-Rankings. 25 Energy Storage, U.S. Department of Energy (last accessed Jan. 6, 2021), https://www.energy.gov/oe/energy-storage. 26 The field of energy storage includes a broad technology base such as batteries (both conventional and advanced), electrochemical capacitors, flywheels, power electronics, control systems, and software tools for storage optimization and sizing. 27 Energy Storage, U.S. Department of Energy (last accessed Jan. 6, 2021), https://www.energy.gov/oe/energy-storage. 28 Energy Storage Grand Challenge: Roadmap, U.S. Department of Energy (Dec. 2020), https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2020/12/f81/Energy%20Storage%20Grand%20Challenge%20Roadmap.pdf.