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AI plays to Putin's strengths. (Alexei Nikolsky / AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has rattled Elon Musk and many others since saying of artificial intelligence, "Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world." Putin's more assuring subsequent remarks while speaking to Russian schoolchildren on Sept. 2 were lost in the din — that such an outcome was not optimal, and that if Russia is the one to break through and lead AI, "we will share our technology with the rest of the world, like we are doing now with atomic and nuclear technology."

This, according to a new report from Harvard's Belfer Center, is because of Putin's recent history of shaking the foundations of the West. Simply put, co-author Gregory C. Allen said in an email exchange with Axios, there is much to fear from Russia in a coming age of AI-enhanced warfare: China, the U.S. and Russia are leading the charge toward AI-enhanced warfare. But the nature of the new warfare plays to Russia's strengths.

  • The type of cyber break-ins for which Moscow has become famous — known as Advanced Persistent Threat operations — currently require scores of highly skilled hands directed by the Russian military. But in the future, this capability will be automated, and the software available for purchase on the black market.
  • Any country and non-state actor will be able to buy long-range AI-enabled drones with precision strike capability.
  • With trust among people already threadbare, AI risks shredding it further, allowing dead-easy forgery of audio and visual material. This rewards Russia's skillset, often leaning on deception that, over time, makes people doubt what they see and hear.
  • Russia is behind now, but that is not reassuring. "Russia was never a leader in internet technology either," writes Allen, "but the country has built a large and capable force of cyber hackers that knocked out a substantial portion of the Ukrainian power grid, infiltrated U.S. nuclear facilities and brought chaos to the 2016 presidential election."

On the overall threat, listen to Bloomberg View's Leonid Bershidsky: "Nations will be killing with AI long before the technology can cause mass unemployment."

Go deeper

N.Y. Times faces culture clashes as business booms

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

New York Times columnist David Brooks' resignation from a paid gig at a think tank on Saturday is the latest in a flurry of scandals that America's biggest and most successful newspaper company has endured in the past year.

Driving the news: Brooks resigned from the Aspen Institute following a BuzzFeed News investigation that uncovered conflicts of interest between his reporting and money he accepted from corporate donors for a project called "Weave" that he worked on at the nonprofit.

America rebalances its post-Trump news diet

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Nearly halfway through President Biden's first 100 days, data shows that Americans are learning to wean themselves off of news — and especially politics.

Why it matters: The departure of former President Trump's once-ubiquitous presence in the news cycle has reoriented the country's attention.

2021 sees a record number of bills targeting trans youth

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Republicans in at least 25 states have introduced over 60 bills targeting transgender children — a legislative boom since January that has beaten 2020's total number of anti-trans bills.

Why it matters: LGBTQ advocates say the unprecedented push was catalyzed by backlash to Biden's election and the Supreme Court ruling that workers cannot be fired for being gay or transgender.