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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

Updated 38 mins ago - Health

Massage, facial, pedicure... intravenous drip?

A salon on the Upper East Side of New York that offers IV drip therapies. Photo: Jennifer A. Kingson/Axios

IV drips — the kind you might get if you're rushed to the hospital — are trending as a spa treatment, thanks in part to endorsements by celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Madonna.

Why it matters: Like other "wellness" trends with a whiff of medical imprimatur, IV nutrient drips can be harmless or mildly restorative — or go awry, particularly in the wrong hands.

U.S. sounds alarm on Ukraine

Conscripts line up at a Russian railway station yesterday before departing for Army service. Photo: Sergei Malgavko/TASS via Getty Images

The Biden administration is "deeply concerned" by new intelligence — detailed for Axios and other outlets — showing Russia stepping up preparations to invade Ukraine as soon as early 2022.

Why it matters: Most of this was known from public sources and satellite imagery, but the administration is sending a stronger signal by releasing specific details from the intelligence community.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
3 hours ago - Economy & Business

Philanthropy in the age of crypto

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The best charities are increasingly effective. That's the clear message sent by Open Philanthropy, the think tank that doubles as the grant-making vehicle for Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and his wife Cari Tuna.

Why it matters: With tech and crypto wealth becoming a fast-growing part of the philanthropic pie, there's more of an emphasis than ever on effectiveness — what the newly-divorced Melinda French Gates, in her recent Giving Pledge update, characterizes as giving as "impactfully as possible."