by Margarita Konaev
On October 10th, 2019, Russia released its national artificial intelligence strategy. After defining key terms and tracing the historical evolution and current developments in the field of artificial intelligence, the strategy highlights basic principles to guide Russia’s development of AI. These include the protection of human rights, security, transparency, technological sovereignty, innovation cycle integrity, cost-effectiveness, and support for competition.
Over the next 10 years, the strategy envisions Russia ramping up scientific research and development efforts, investing in software and hardware, and improving the availability and quality of data for AI technologies. Additionally, Russia seeks to educate, retain, and attract top quality AI talent while creating a favorable and flexible regulatory environment that will stimulate investment, research, development, testing, and integration of AI-based technologies and solutions into various sectors of Russian economy and society.
No direct mention of AI for national defense
The strategy emphasizes AI R&D for applications in the economic and financial sectors, industry, services, and healthcare—neglecting to mention AI national security and defense applications. This is a significant omission since the Russian defense establishment is pursuing advances in military robotics, unmanned systems, command, control, computers, communications, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities where AI applications could have a meaningful impact.
State-led efforts to lead in AI
The strategy identifies access to the high-quality data needed to develop AI technologies as one of its main priorities. To this end, it calls for creating and modernizing public dataset storage platforms and “storing datasets (including sound, voice, medical, meteorological, and industrial data, as well as surveillance system data), on public platforms in order to meet the needs of organizations” developing AI. Importantly, “priority access to public platforms” would be established for “Russian public authorities and organizations.”
The emphasis on access to public data for Russian AI developers echoes the provisions outlined in President Donald Trump’s 2019 executive order on “Maintaining American Leadership in Artificial Intelligence,” which encourages government agencies to make their data accessible to U.S.-based AI developers. The U.S. directive strives to open government-held data to industry and private sector AI developers, who drive American and global AI innovation. The Russian strategy, on the other hand, wants to ensure that the government has priority access to public data—with ‘public’ being broadly defined and encompassing data beyond what’s collected by the government. This contrast reflects Russia’s state-led approach to AI development and reinforces the historical differences in American and Russian approaches to innovation and technological competition.
No concrete deadlines, budget, or enforcement mechanisms
National strategies have the potential to focus government efforts, but realizing that potential requires a clear distribution of responsibilities for implementation across government agencies, a comprehensive timeline, and, of course, a budget. The group responsible for the strategy’s implementation will be the “Government Commission on Digital Development and the Use of Information Technology to Improve the Quality of Life and the Conditions for Doing Business.” Yet there is no information about who leads this commission, which agencies are represented, or to whom it reports. The timeframe for accomplishing the strategy is up to 2030, with mid-range deliverables by 2024, but the metrics for judging progress are vague. Details matter when it comes to successfully executing ambitious plans to advance the development of AI across the Russian state and society; without accountability and enforcement mechanisms, implementation is likely to face delays.
Finally, the strategy notes that financial support for implementation will be provided from “Russian Federation budgetary system budget funds, state extrabudgetary foundation funds, and extrabudgetary sources, including the funds of development institutions, state-owned corporations, state-owned companies, and joint-stock companies with state participation, as well as private investment.” It is unclear whether these funds have already been secured or still need to be designated. Given the limited private investment into the Russian AI ecosystem, it will be up to the state and state-owned or affiliated companies to do the heavy lifting—a tall order in the face of economic stagnation and sanctions.