Russia Adopts National Strategy for Development of Artificial Intelligence
Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor
By: Sergey Sukhankin
The Jamestown Foundation
On October 10, Russian President Vladimir Putin approved the National Strategy for the Development of Artificial Intelligence (NSDAI) for the period until 2030. During the unveiling of the new strategy, Putin noted that “the global market for products using artificial intelligence will grow almost 17-fold by 2024, to roughly $500 billion.” To make the most of these global trends, the Kremlin leader called for “a partnership of large companies with the state to promote science and technology” in pursuit of integrating AI-related technologies into various spheres of the Russian economy (TASS, October 11). Subsequently, Putin announced a series of orders (porucheniya) that would de facto form the backbone of the NSDAI. The most distinctive feature of these orders was premised on active involvement of large Russian corporations, including Gazprom Neft, Sberbank, Rosatom, Rostekh, Rostelekom, and Russian Railways—essentially making these entities responsible/accountable for the whole process of implementation. A second crucial element was the creation of the Digital Economy (Tsifrovaya Ekonomika) national program (natsproyekt)—a federal project, fully financed from the state budget, that would be specifically concerned with the practical implementation of a broad spectrum of initiatives concerned with AI and related fields (It-world.ru, June 19).
The recently adopted, 20-page NSDAI introduces some important novelties regarding Russian thinking about artificial intelligence and underscores the key areas where Moscow apparently sees opportunities and competitive advantages (Pravo.gov.ru, October 11).
First, the document presents Russia’s officially recognized definition of AI as “a set of technological solutions that makes it possible to simulate human cognitive functions […] as well as to obtain results during the performance of specific tasks that are at least comparable to the results of human intellectual activity. This set of technological solutions shall consist of information and communications infrastructure, software […] and data-handling procedures and services” (Pravo.gov.ru, October 11). Despite the overt allusion to non-military uses of AI, the NSDAI also pointedly mentions “intermediary [smezhnye] areas” where AI could be used: inter alia, these include “robotics and unmanned vehicle control”—elements that have been tested by Russia in Syria (see EDM, September 26, 2017).
Second, the document stresses the strategic importance of AI as a prerequisite for Russia’s entry into the group of economic world leaders as well as the country’s technological independence and competitiveness. Importantly, it stresses that the “inadequate development [of AI]… will result in deepening economic and technological lagging” (Pravo.gov.ru, October 11).
Third, despite the fact that Russia is not currently considered a foremost leader in the realm of AI (see EDM, March 13), the document expresses high confidence in Russia’s ability to overcome existing gap and catch up with the more technologically developed countries. Namely, it states that Russia has the potential to “[become] an international leader in the development and use of artificial intelligence technologies,” which is premised on both historical traditions (including a strong track record in training cadres in programming, mathematics, physics and related sciences) and actual achievements (Russia arguably still occupies many top positions in terms of scientific research) (Pravo.gov.ru, October 11).
The NSDAI’s expressed optimism is shared by many of Russia’s leading information technology (IT) and AI experts and practitioners. As argued by the president of the Digital Economy League, Sergei Shilov, Russia wields strong potential in the realms of both AI and IT. But that said, the expert warned that one of the key problems Russia faces in this domain pertains to retaining qualified, motivated and talented young specialists (Kommersant, October 23). Incidentally, President Putin echoed these same concerns months before formally adopting the new AI development strategy. In May, he declared that Russia must be able to create attractive conditions for both domestic and foreign (via economic stimuli and simplified legal procedures) top-notch experts in the domain of machine intelligence (YouTube, May 30). And prior to this, during his February address to the Federation Council (the upper chamber of the Russian parliament), he stated that, by the end of 2021, “all schools in Russia must receive access to high-speed Internet,” which will upgrade the level of cyber literacy among young Russians, thereby creating fertile soil for expanding the pool of potential AI/IT specialists (RIA Novosti, February 20). A similar (but methodologically much more advanced) strategy is to be implemented at Russian tertiary institutions, including the Moscow Aviation Institute (MAI), the Moscow Polytechnic University, the Higher School of Economics, the National Research Technological University, and the National Research Nuclear University (MEPhI). Namely, starting from 2021, some Russian universities will embark on implementing AI in a broad range of spheres. According to Russian officials, the initiative might be supported by more than 100 Russian degree-granting institutions (News.rambler.ru, September 1).
It is also worth mentioning that the introduction of the NSDAI has triggered a wave of interest in China. The People’s Daily admitted that Russia has visible potential in the realm of AI. Its “superb [human] resources and training techniques in mathematics and physics” as well as “vast access to mobile networks and the Internet… [and a] full-fledged system of preparation in the IT domain” could move Russia into the top of AI-research forerunners. Moreover, the Chinese media admits that, among young Russians, IT- and AI-related specializations occupy first and second, respectively, positions in terms of choices of future profession (News.rambler.ru, October 28).
Although not currently an undisputed leader in the development and adoption of artificial intelligence, Russia’s introduction of a national AI development strategy—coupled with some other recent shifts in this area (see EDM, November 5)—signifies that a major shakeup in this field could be in the offing. Meanwhile, at least in the short to medium term, strong governmental control over the AI domain may become a competitive advantage for Russia in the battle for global AI leadership.
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