What’s new: a new report by the Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET) says antitrust actions could impact Defense artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities.
Why this matters: The US military believes AI is a critical capability for shaping and winning future conflicts and CSET says antitrust actions could be a decisive variable in how the Pentagon develops these capabilities.
Go deep: The paper, “Antitrust and Artificial Intelligence: How Breaking up Big Tech Could Affect the Pentagon’s Access to AI,” explores three ways in which antitrust actions against private technology companies could affect DoD’s access to cutting-edge Artificial Intelligence (AI). Specifically, the paper frames three topics for policymakers and researchers to explore further.
(1) Innovation: “Large tech companies control many of the key inputs fueling domestic AI innovation, including data, compute (computing power), and talent,” says the report. “The Pentagon stands to benefit from this innovation both directly—by buying products from large, consumer-oriented companies like Google and Microsoft—and indirectly, as traditional defense contractors, military-focused startups, and Department of Defense (DOD) researchers develop AI tools derived from the consumer market.”“If antitrust action creates a less concentrated AI ecosystem composed of smaller companies, would the U.S. AI sector become more or less innovative on the whole? And would its innovation be more or less oriented toward the Pentagon’s specific needs?”Key considerations include “the diversity and quantity of data held by big companies; the relationship between firm size, R&D, and innovation; and the effect of scale on talent acquisition, collaboration, anti-competitive practices, and compute.”
(2) Defense acquisition: “While direct contracting with leading tech companies—as exemplified by Project Maven (Google) and Project JEDI (Microsoft)—is not the only mechanism for private sector/DOD AI collaboration, [the authors] expect it will play a significant and increasing role.”“If tech giants are fractured through antitrust action, how might this mechanism evolve? Will smaller AI companies be in a better or worse position to partner with the Pentagon?”Key considerations include “barriers to entry for Pentagon work and the draw of international markets.”
(3) Containment: “Even if the private sector produces innovative, strategically important AI tools and the Pentagon manages to acquire them, it will need to keep those same tools out of the hands of U.S. adversaries in order to maintain a strategic advantage.”“Will this process be harder or easier if America’s largest AI companies are broken up? Will the Pentagon have those tools to itself?”Cybersecurity is a key consideration for these questions.
My thought bubble: The report is another careful and sophisticated analysis by CSET and it does an excellent job of placing antitrust and national security into a historical context and of identifying concerns beyond those of the Pentagon. While it doesn’t directly prescribe policy paths, it does offer policymakers a helpful framework for thinking through these decisions and for carefully counting the costs of various courses of action.