President Putin’s meeting with students, otherwise quite boring, caused a global tech media fever. And that’s just because some schoolboy from Ulan-Ude, the capital of Buryatiya region, mentioned the term ‘Artificial Intelligence’ while telling the President about his personal side-project (source, word-by-word translation):
[Student]: We chose and are promoting the project ‘Artificial intelligence based on NBICS’. And this robot, I think, is a small step towards artificial intelligence. Together with my friend Dima, for the third year we are assembling this robot. It measures the radiation level in the environment. Umm… NBICS-based Artificial intelligence, I think, is a pretty good project, which needs promotion. It is the future of Russia.
[President]: Artificial intelligence is not only the future of Russia, it is the future of the entire mankind. It brings colossal opportunities, and hardly foreseeable threats. The one who becomes the leader in this area, will be the ruler of the world. And it is not desirable that this monopoly is concentrated in someone’s hands. Therefore, if we become the leader in this area, we will share this technology with the rest of the world in the same way as we do today with nuclear technologies. But in order not to stay behind, we should start working on it today. And of course it is good that we have such nice young people who express interest in these technologies. Good luck.
The scary NBICS word here stands for “Nano-, Bio-, Info-, Cognitive- and Socio-“, and is just an official Russian term for saying “all that trendy tech stuff”.
The President’s answer was short. So short, in fact, that one just can’t say that the President has put much thought or meaning into it.
Moreover, this was just a tiny bit of the 30+ minutes conversation, which actually wasn’t about AI at all. It was about all modern technologies, and was developing like:
[Student]: I am working on [insert hyped technology name here: IoT, Drones, Nuclear tech, AI, Autonomous vehicles, Personalized medicine, whatever].
[President]: A very good technology, yeah. It can be used for military purposes. But it can also be used for the good of the people. And for making Russia more competitive globally.
So the question is why the global media had put so much stress on the AI part. And moreover, why they started the usual AI-will-cause-WW3 stuff. Putin said that Russia is ready to share their technology. Not that they will open-source it on GitHub, apparently, but I guess by publishing the research papers just the same way other guys from the US, Canada and China do. If this thing had been said by, say, the Prime Minister of Iceland, no one would have ever noticed. But this came from the mouth of the Russian President, and everyone now thinks that he is planning to develop a Russian Skynet. Or at least a single Terminator.
And my advice for Elon Musk (who am I to give him advice, but nevertheless): please come to visit Putin and make him join your OpenAI on the governmental level. I think, given your opinion on how strong computer science in Russia is, this will benefit both parties.