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Henry Kissinger and former Google head Eric Schmidt say diplomatic dialogue to control AI needs to happen now

This is the Dutch company that has agreed to restrict the sale of a machine to China that makes the most powerful microprocessors.

"AI will alter our experience as reasoning beings and permanently change our relationship with reality. The result will be a new effort," they write in their book, The Age of AI: And Our Human Future.

The United States and China are in a race to see who can be first in the AI arena and both are spending billions to do it. But many worry about the implications of how it will be used and if the world is ready to turn over human decisions to machines.

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger says artificial intelligence represents the end of the Age of Enlightenment. “It changes the human conception of reality and its essence of knowledge.”

The nearly 99-year-old has written a book with the former CEO of Google Eric Schmidt called The Age of AI: And Our Human Future. Both participated in a virtual discussion in a Council on Foreign Relations event. They say diplomatic discussions need to start now in order to prepare for what artificial intelligence could mean in the future.

“We take a position in the book that the most important thing to worry about is essentially launch-on-warning systems," says Schmidt. "These are called automatic weapon systems. And we don’t want a situation where the computer decides to start the war because the computer figured out something was going wrong that was perhaps not true or made a mistake.”

He says in an active cyber war, for example, you may not have time for humans to make the decision. That’s why diplomatic planning is essential.

“In the nuclear field we had a comparable problem, but with a much more transparent technology which was large and could be counted,” says Kissinger.

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Ann Thompson
Henry Kissinger, Eric Schmidt and Judy Woodruff on the December 20, 2021 CFR virtual session

There are steps that can slow the AI race. The Trump administration restricted China's access to ultraviolet semiconductor manufacturing. It’s a measure the Biden administration has continued. The Dutch have enforced the ban, prohibiting the export of a machine that uses ultraviolet light to make the fastest microprocessors and memory chips.

A recent independent report by the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence called for speedy upgrades to the Pentagon's data architecture. The commission was established under the fiscal year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act to examine ways to advance the development of AI for national security and defense purposes. The nearly 800-page document found that the U.S. government is not currently prepared for AI threats, and must become “AI ready” by 2025.

Using the brain power of computers is not all bad. Schmidt says AI did what scientists were unable to do - develop a drug called Halicin, which attacks antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The challenge will effectively regulate it.

Ann Thompson has years of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting. She has reported for WKRC, WCKY, WHIO-TV, Metro Networks and CBS/ABC Radio. Her work has been recognized by the Associated Press and the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2019 and 2011 A-P named her “Best Reporter” for large market radio in Ohio. She has won awards from the Association of Women in Communications and the Alliance for Women in Media. Ann reports regularly on science and technology in Focus on Technology