Report of the Commission on the Geopolitical
Impacts of New Technologies and Data

Chapter 1. Global science and technology leadership

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The United States and like-minded nations, as well as private sector organizations, must continue to invest in and develop the multilateral mechanisms and academic and industrial capabilities, and the human capital needed for continued leadership in key science and technology (S&T) areas. Such leadership is essential for national and economic security and for ensuring that technology is developed and deployed with democratic values and standards in mind. The global development of advanced technologies requires the United States to pursue, as strategic goals and in collaboration with allies and partners, leadership in select areas.1Democracy Technology Partnership Act, S. 604 — 117th Congress (2021-2022), 1st Session, accessed March 19, 2021, https://www.warner.senate.gov/public/_cache/files/c/9/c9502023-85b4-4f7d-90db-9045237da704/18C2CE128388C4EC06C87EE8E4CEFB76.democracy-technology-partnership-act-bill-text.pdf.

Six broad areas of S&T are critical to national and economic security, as follows:2President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, Recommendations for Strengthening American Leadership in Industries of the Future. A Report to the President of the United States of America, June 2020, https://science.osti.gov/-/media/_/pdf/about/pcast/202006/PCAST_June_2020_Report.pdf?la=en&hash=019A4F17C79FDEE5005C51D3D6CAC81FB31E3ABC; White House, “National Strategy for Critical and Emerging Technologies,” October 2020, accessed March 19, 2021, https://sesecuritycenter.org/national-strategy-for-critical-and-emerging-technologies/.

  • Communications and networking, data science, and cloud computing: collectively provide the foundation for secure transmission of data for both the public and private sector and enable robust economies of ideas, resources, and talent. This critical area supports all aspects of a healthy digital economy domestically and internationally.
  • Artificial intelligence (AI), distributed sensors, edge computing, and the Internet of Things (IoT): add new capabilities for understanding changes in the world for both physical and digital environments and enhance human governance in key, defined areas.
  • Biotechnologies, precision medicine, and genomic technologies: collectively provide the foundation to heal and promote healthy individuals and communities, as well as to improve the performance of agricultural systems with regard to the reduction of atmospheric greenhouse gases, and to develop a system for early warning of emerging natural and human-produced risks such as outbreaks, bioterrorism, and environmental shocks.
  • Space technologies, undersea technologies, and new materials for extreme environments: collectively provide for commercial companies and nations around the world to deploy mega-constellations of satellites, or fleets of autonomous ocean platforms, with advanced, persistent surveillance and communications capabilities to monitor the planet, including its oceans and environment, for emerging risks.3National Aeronautics and Space Administration, “Space Technology Grand Challenges,” December 2, 2010, accessed March 24, 2021, https://www.nasa.gov/pdf/503466main_space_tech_grand_challenges_12_02_10.pdf.
  • Autonomous systems, robotics, and decentralized energy methods: collectively provide the foundation to do work in dangerous or hazardous environments without risk to human lives, while at the same time augmenting human teams, potentially prompting long-term dislocations in national workforces, and requiring additional workforce talent for new technology areas.
  • Quantum information science (QIS), nanotechnology, and advanced microelectronics: collectively provide the foundation for solving classes of computational problems, next-generation manufacturing, new ways to monitor the trustworthiness of digital and physical supply chains, as well as potentially presenting new challenges to communications security that underpin effective governance and robust economies.

Participation by industry, academia, government labs, and US allies and partners will help ensure a fast pace of discovery and innovation. Achieving global S&T leadership also requires protecting intellectual property and proprietary information, and guiding technology sharing with other nations based on their adherence to shared standards and values for security and privacy.

Technology sharing with non-allied nations poses strategic risks. For example, sharing advanced findings and applications of AI may benefit one nation at the expense of the other—AI-based image understanding algorithms could enhance remote sensing of military activities by commercial satellites. In other cases, new capabilities may benefit all nations, for example, a better disease testing technology.

Finding 1: The US National Strategy for Critical and Emerging Technologies requires an implementation plan to guide both domestic and international coordination to achieve global science and technology leadership.

The National Strategy for Critical and Emerging Technologies supports US national and economic security by promoting the National Security Innovation Base and by protecting the United States’ technological advantage. Priority actions include developing the S&T workforce, establishing technology norms and standards that reflect democratic values and interests, ensuring research and development (R&D) funding of priorities, building strong partnerships with the private sector and with like-minded nations, and protecting the security of the technologies, their development, and how they are shared.4White House, “National Strategy,” 7-9. A detailed implementation plan, coordinated across the US government, is needed.5US Government Accountability Office, DoD Critical Technologies: Plans for Communicating, Assessing, and Overseeing Protection Efforts Should Be Completed, GAO-21-158, January 2021, accessed April 16, 2021, https://www.gao.gov/assets/gao-21-158.pdf.

Finding 1.1: Achieving and sustaining technology leadership must be a long-term national priority.

To achieve the long-term goals of technology leadership in key areas, a close and continuing interaction between S&T development and national security policy is essential.

The National Strategy for Critical and Emerging Technologies must be accompanied by long-term S&T goals resulting in demonstrations of significant import, and detailed programmatic plans for achieving these goals. The breadth of these technologies and their interdependencies require that progress should be shared with allies and partners and involve public-private partnerships (PPPs) among government research centers, private industry, and academia. This approach can catalyze human capital development and accelerate innovation.

Finding 1.2: Private sector research and development exceeds that of the government in some areas that are important for national and economic security, underscoring the need for greater coordination.

The annual growth rate of domestic R&D government spending for 2000-2017 places the United States sixth, at 4.3 percent, behind the European Union (EU), Germany, India, South Korea, and China (17.3 percent).6National Science Foundation, “The State of U.S. Science and Engineering 2020,” January 2020, accessed March 24, 2021, https://ncses.nsf.gov/pubs/nsb20201/global-r-d. The US government funds the largest share of basic research, while US industry funds the largest share of both applied research and development.7Congressional Research Service, “U.S. Research and Development Funding and Performance: Fact Sheet,” updated January 24, 2020, accessed March 26, 2021, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R44307.pdf; the National Academies defines federal S&T as essentially comprising funding categories 6.1 and 6.2. R&D is described as being more focused on application and development. Generally, government-funded S&T is dominated by academia and R&D is dominated by industry funding. For government-focused missions (e.g., NASA or DoD), the government funds industry directly for their R&D (either through contracts or independent R&D that is an allowable cost in contracts). This amount of R&D is still less than nongovernment industry R&D.

The newness of the technologies and their continuing evolution challenges the creation of internationally accepted, harmonized, and tested rules. In areas such as data privacy, harmonization of standards will require a heightening of US standards. In other areas of Internet and technology governance, the United States must have a leadership role in determining international standards and rules.

Among the more important critical and emerging technologies are AI, quantum, cyber, digital infrastructure, and health/medical technologies, all areas in which private industry is growing. To strengthen US technology leadership, the United States must increase government R&D funding in critical areas and coordinate government and private industry R&D strategies.

Finding 1.3: Recent proposed legislation addresses policies for guiding permissible technology development and use.

Several countries are developing legislation to strengthen ethical practices underpinning data collection for AI algorithms, protect data privacy, and govern data rights.8Law Library of the Library of Congress, Regulation of Artificial Intelligence in Selected Jurisdictions, January 2019, accessed March 26, 2021, https://www.loc.gov/law/help/artificial-intelligence/regulation-artificial-intelligence.pdf.

“Executive Order 13960 of December 3, 2020: Promoting the Use of Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence in the Federal Government” establishes a set of principles governing the development and use of AI.9“Executive Order 13960 of December 3, 2020: Promoting the Use of Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence in the Federal Government,” Federal Register, accessed March 26, 2021, https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/12/08/2020-27065/promoting-the-use-of-trustworthy-artificial-intelligence-in-the-federal-government.

A small sampling from recent, proposed US legislation includes the following ideas:

  • Require assessments of the impacts of automated decision-making systems, including AI systems. These assessments would evaluate their accuracy, bias, discrimination, privacy, and security.10Algorithmic Accountability Act of 2019, S. 1108 — 116th Congress (2019-2020), 1st Session, accessed March 26, 2021, https://www.wyden.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Algorithmic%20Accountability%20Act%20of%202019%20Bill%20Text.pdf.
  • Recommend approaches that promote the development and use of AI “while protecting civil liberties, civil rights, and economic and national security.11”AI in Government Act of 2020, H.R. 2575 — 116th Congress (2019-2020), accessed April 16, 2021, https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/2575/text.
  • Reinforce government regulations for protecting the privacy rights of individuals in terms of how data are collected, protected, used, and shared.
  • Establish standards governing the responsible use of data and emerging technologies that include prohibitions on the use of personal data and emerging technologies in a manner that discriminates based on protected classes.

The European Commission established a High-Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence that published Ethics Guidelines for Trustworthy AI in April 2019. These guidelines address human agency and oversight, technical robustness and safety, privacy and data governance, transparency, diversity, nondiscrimination and fairness, societal and environmental well-being, and accountability.12European Commission, “On Artificial Intelligence – A European approach to excellence and trust,” White Paper, Brussels, 19.2.2020, COM(2020) 65 final, accessed March 26, 2021, https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/commission-white-paper-artificial-intelligence-feb2020_en.pdf.

The newness of the technologies and their continuing evolution challenges the creation of internationally accepted, harmonized, and tested rules. In areas such as data privacy, harmonization of standards will require a heightening of US standards. In other areas of Internet and technology governance, the United States must have a leadership role in determining international standards and rules.

Finding 1.4: Models for gaining technological leadership encourage innovation, focus on challenges concerning security or economic growth, organize governance, and draw from the global talent pool.

A recent analysis, Innovation Policies in the United States,13Bhavya Lal, “Innovation Policies in the United States,” Science and Technology Policy Institute, Institute for Defense Analyses, Washington, DC, accessed March 26, 2021, https://gsdm.u-tokyo.ac.jp/file/170208_S2P2_Lal.pdf. discusses how these policies have changed over time, citing five models: “(i) Connected, challenge model, driven by societal challenges during World War II, where innovations are rapidly turned into capabilities, (ii) Basic science-focused, disconnected, decentralized model—the linear model during the Cold War, (iii) ‘Right-left’ translation model wherein the desired technologies motivate the basic science, (iv) Spanning the ‘valley of death’ model in which government initiatives helped bridge from basic research to the use of the innovations by industry, (v) Connected model in which societal needs connect innovation with the production of desired products.” The analysis concludes that “basic research must be complemented with additional institutional elements that reach much further down the innovation pipeline to development and later innovation stages.”

Proposed legislation introduced in the 116th Congress concerning AI research focused on convening “technical experts across academia, government, and industry to develop a detailed plan for how the United States can build, deploy, govern, and sustain a national AI research cloud.”14US Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), Portman, Heinrich Propose National Strategy For Artificial Intelligence; Call For $2.2 Billion Investment In Education, Research & Development, press release, May 21, 2019, https://www.portman.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/portman-heinrich-propose-national-strategy-artificial-intelligence-call-22. Another model for research collaboration was included in proposed legislation which would “organize a coordinated national strategy for developing AI, establish and support collaborative ventures or consortia with public or private sector entities, and accelerate the responsible delivery of AI applications from government agencies, academia, and the private sector.”15US Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Brian Schatz (D-HI), in the 116th Congress sponsored the Artificial Intelligence Initiative Act (AI-IA), S. 1558, introduced in the Senate on May 21, 2019. Artificial Intelligence Initiative Act of 2019, S. 1558 — 116th Congress (2019-2020), https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/1558. Both of these bills became law in Division E of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA): the Artificial Intelligence Initiative Act (Sections 5101-5105 of P.L.116-283) and the National AI Research Resource Task Force Act (Section 5106 of P.L.116-283).

The United States is a founding member of the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI). “In collaboration with partners and international organizations, GPAI will bring together leading experts from industry, civil society, governments, and academia to collaborate across four Working Group themes: 1) Responsible AI; 2) Data Governance; 3) The Future of Work; and 4) Innovation & Commercialization,” according to a joint statement from the GPAI’s founding members.16Department of State, “Joint Statement From Founding Members of the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence,” June 15, 2020, accessed March 26, 2021, https://www.state.gov/joint-statement-from-founding-members-of-the-global-partnership-on-artificial-intelligence/.

While the US model for funding R&D allows for multiple, independent lines of inquiry, in QIS, for example,17Subcommittee on Quantum Information Science under the Committee on Science of the National Science & Technology Council, National Strategic Overview for Quantum Information Science, September 2018, accessed March 26, 2021, https://www.quantum.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/2018_NSTC_National_Strategic_Overview_QIS.pdf. some coordination in international collaboration could help ensure a diversity of approaches is fostered.

Approach 1: Focus the innovative work and talent on long-term capability demonstrations, while emphasizing democratic values.

The United States and like-minded nations must be successful in each of the critical technology areas, or risk a vulnerability affecting national security. Success includes investing in innovative work and talent linked to long-term capability demonstrations. A focused approach sets concrete capability goals, constructs and funds fast-paced programs, and undergoes regular review. Talent from many nations and groups will make essential contributions. In contrast with nondemocratic nations, the United States and its allies and partners possess democratic values that can empower this work.

Recommendation 1: Establish priorities, investments, standards, and rules for technology dissemination; develop across government, private industry, academia, and with allies and partners

Recommendation 1.1: Develop a National and Economic Security Technology Strategy.

To ensure the United States and its allies remain at the forefront of strategic S&T areas, the administration should develop a National and Economic Security Technology Strategy. The administration should create long-term S&T goals informed by assessments of foreign capabilities and plans. The National and Economic Security Technology Strategy should complement the National Security Strategy and draw upon the National Strategy for Critical and Emerging Technologies and other sources. The strategy should establish a long-term plan to direct government activities, incentivize private sector investments, enhance human capital, and develop capabilities in S&T that protect US national and economic security. The US Congress should conduct annual reviews of the milestone progress and budgets for these strategic S&T areas.

The strategy should also articulate a plan to establish a strategic technology ecosystem, including public-private partnerships, academia, industry, nonprofits, and others to accelerate technological development, support experimentation and pilot projects, and facilitate the application of new technologies to national and global challenges. Possible models include the Enduring Security Framework established by the National Security Agency (NSA), sector-specific consortia that include industry and academia, innovation labs that mature technology targeted at specific sectors, national laboratories developing large-scale test and evaluation infrastructure for advanced technology development, and focusing the National Science Foundation to address S&T.18Endless Frontier Act, H.R. 6978 / S. 3832 — 116th Congress (2019-2020), https://www.aip.org/fyi/federal-science-bill-tracker/116th/endless-frontier-act, introduced in the 116th Congress. The strategy should articulate ways to leverage not just the US workforce, but also the global talent base, while seeking to grow and retain existing highly skilled technical talent in the United States. The strategy should outline an approach that ensures the results of the strategic technology ecosystem provide the greatest public benefit possible from government investments.

The strategy should specifically address the following technology areas, with the strategic S&T goal for each area in italics:

  1. Communications and networking, data science, and cloud computing: provide the foundation for trustworthy digital infrastructures.
  2. Artificial intelligence (AI), distributed sensors, edge computing, and the Internet of Things (IoT): testable, tunable, and trusted AI algorithms that are robust to limited, sparse, or corrupted data and require significantly less data, power, and time compared with today.
  3. Biotechnologies, precision medicine, and genomic technologies: field a global system for fast, automated detection, diagnoses, and discovery of treatments for emerging pathogens, bioterrorism, and other environmental shocks to the planet.
  4. Space technologies, undersea technologies, and new materials for extreme environments: monitor the entire planet pervasively and persistently, at high resolution and communicate the information in near-real time.
  5. Autonomous systems, robotics, and decentralized energy methods: develop coordinated protocols for testing modular systems and methods and for evaluating emergent behaviors.
  6. Quantum information science (QIS), nanotechnology, and advanced microelectronics: establish a national QIS infrastructure comprising research, development, computational, and testing programs, facilities, and skilled personnel; accelerate the operationalization of QIS technologies.

Recommendation 1.2: Establish a Global GeoTech Alliance and Executive Council.

To ensure coordination between the US government and private sector on key S&T issues, the administration should create a Global GeoTech Alliance and Executive Council comprised of US private sector representatives and government representatives from the National Security Council, the Intelligence Community, the Department of Defense (DoD), the Department of State, the Treasury Department, the Department of Commerce, and the Office of the United States Trade Representative. This group—the Global GeoTech Alliance and Executive Council—would advise on issues arising from emerging technologies and data capabilities, technology cooperation, and technology standard-setting efforts, such as those raised in this report, and could provide the existing President’s Intelligence Advisory Board with augmented membership and a honed focus on GeoTech issues of concern across sectors globally.

Recommendation 1.3: Strengthen international collaboration on science and technology.

The administration should develop a strategy and a new multilateral mechanism among like-minded and democratic countries to coordinate technology policy, standards, and development. This strategy should seek to coordinate strategic S&T goals and milestones for collaborations with US allies and partner nations and develop agreements for sharing information, data, and research results. The strategy should also establish a framework for facilitating technical and programmatic information exchanges, with the goal of identifying opportunities for collaboration on specific S&T projects.

The administration should also increase participation by the United States in the GPAI.19“The Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence,” website homepage accessed on March 26, 2021, https://www.gpai.ai/. The William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 directs the United States to establish several national AI programs and organizations to “ensure continued US leadership in artificial intelligence and to lead the world in the development and use of trustworthy artificial intelligence systems in the public and private sectors.”20William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021, 117th Congress (2021-2022), Public Law No. 116-283, https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/6395. This requires the United States to take a more active role in the GPAI—in GPAI leadership activities, AI strategy development multi-stakeholder experts group, and in the formulation and execution of the research agenda that supports the work of the multi-stakeholder experts group. Interfacing with the EU in support of the new seven-year Horizon Europe S&T initiative is another potential type of collaboration.

Recommendation 1.4: Conduct annual reviews on how nations use technology—with a focus on privacy, civil liberties, and human rights; use the findings to guide international cooperation.

The administration should conduct an annual review that assesses the extent to which other nations use or develop S&T in ways that infringe upon the privacy, civil liberties, and human rights of their citizens, and undermine global peace and security. The results of the reviews should be used to help the United States prioritize cooperative efforts and facilitate coordination on S&T activities with other nations whose application of technology promotes peace, protects human rights, upholds the rule of law, and benefits global society. There is a recent proposal, for example, by the European Commission for a joint US-EU trade council.21European Commission, EU-US: A new transatlantic agenda for global change, press release, December 2, 2020, Brussels, accessed March 26, 2021, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_2279. This could be one of the focal points of this approach.

Recommendation 1.5: Develop risk assessments of the ability of technology applications to violate civil rights, human rights, or undermine security.

The administration should develop risk assessments22Asena Baykal and Thorsten Benner, Risky Business, Rethinking Research Cooperation and Exchange with Non-Democracies, Strategies for Foundations, Universities, Civil Society Organizations, and Think Tanks, Global Public Policy Institute, October 2020, accessed March 26, 2021, https://www.gppi.net/media/GPPi_Baykal_Benner_2020_Risky_Business_final.pdf. for technology applications to determine the potential of a technology application to violate human rights and civil liberties or to undermine security. The assessments also should identify ways to lessen the identified risks. The administration should develop an interagency process, involving the Department of Commerce, the DoD, the Department of State, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the attorney general,23Bureau of Industry and Security, “Scope of Export Administration Regulations, Part 734,” Department of Commerce, accessed March 26, 2021, https://www.bis.doc.gov/index.php/documents/regulations-docs/2382-part-734-scope-of-the-export-administration-regulations-1/file. to carry out these risk assessments. The processes, criteria, and metrics should be open, transparent, and consistent with relevant US trade and export and import control laws.

To help society participate in deciding how new technologies are developed and used, the administration should establish a national-scale educational program to inform the public about the benefits, risks, and brittleness of critical and emerging technologies.

Recommendation 1.6: Establish national-scale training and education programs to foster continuing technological leadership.

The administration should establish national-scale training and education programs to foster continuing technological leadership and to gain the strategic competitive advantage of being able to put advanced technologies to work quickly. The Department of Labor should establish a program that speeds up the matching of people to needed skills and rapidly trains individuals and companies in how to employ advanced technology capabilities. Current training methods cannot handle the fast-changing needs and numbers of students, and new mixtures of methods will evolve.24Lee Rainie and Janna Anderson, “The Future of Jobs and Jobs Training,” Pew Research Center, May 3, 2017, accessed March 26, 2021, https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2017/05/03/the-future-of-jobs-and-jobs-training/. To help society participate in deciding how new technologies are developed and used, the administration should establish a national-scale educational program to inform the public about the benefits, risks, and brittleness of critical and emerging technologies.

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