Seeing like a state: a SenseTime surveillance software demo in Beijing, October 2017
Thomas Peter / REUTERS

The nation that leads in the development of artificial intelligence will, Russian President Vladimir Putin proclaimed in 2017, “become the ruler of the world.” That view has become commonplace in global capitals. Already, more than a dozen governments have announced national AI initiatives. In 2017, China set a goal of becoming the global leader in AI by 2030. Earlier this year, the White House released the American AI Initiative, and the U.S. Department of Defense rolled out an AI strategy.

But the emerging narrative of an “AI arms race” reflects a mistaken view of the risks from AI—and introduces significant new

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