Widgets Magazine
MIGHTY HISTORY

Russia wants AI revolution, but its robots are people in costumes

Russia's President Vladimir Putin has been teasing a Russian artificial intelligence plan for months, promising to unveil it by "mid-June." The first details have finally been announced, and the plan is surprisingly modest. But since this is a country whose state media thought a man in a costume was a real robot, it's really not clear how Russia takes the lead where China and the U.S. are already humming along.



The U.S. and China are in an AI arms race that, coincidentally, is going on at the same time as our 5G race. But Putin is wise to the game going on, saying in 2017 that whoever leads artificial intelligence "will become the ruler of the world," and he's thrown his country into the race.

On June 20, Russia released the first details of its AI strategy, including a $160 million pledge in support for their 14 centers of study based at universities and scientific organizations. If $160 mil sounds like a lot, realize that America has OpenAI which was launched with $1 billion, DARPA launched the AI Next Campaign with $2 billion, and venture capitalists in the U.S. dropped $9.3 billion on AI investments.

Meanwhile, Russia hasn't announced any government research on the level of DARPA, and its private investment is paltry, possibly because Russia has little to no protections for private property, so the state can take any AI products created there at any time for its own use.

Russian President Vladimir Putin Speaks with Chinese President Xi Jinping June 5, 2019, during a series of Russian-Chinese talks.

(Office of the President of Russia)

That's not to say there's no development going on in Russia. Alphabet, Google's parent company, recently bought one Russian AI company, implying it must have had some tech worth shelling out cash for. But it now belongs to an American company, and Alphabet has purchased dozens of competitors around the world but only found something worth scooping in Russia once.

America does have a major rival for AI supremacy though, and it might actually be in first place. China spends more on AI research than the U.S. does. According to Thomas Davenport, a government-run venture capital firm in China has promised over $30 billion in research money for AI. And individual cities have dropped huge money as well. Tianjin, a port, has slated $16 billion in research monies.

America has many more groups investing in AI than China, but China is likely investing more overall—even on the venture capital side—than the U.S., according to Davenport.

So, yeah, the idea of a come-from-behind victory for Russia seems far-fetched, but the fight at ranks 1 and 2 is still undecided, and victory is important. Artificial intelligence will likely give a massive advantage in every aspect of war as well as in a lot of industrial and economic applications.