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 risks as a result. For each country, the real danger is not that it will fall behind its competitors in AI but that the perception of a race will prompt everyone to rush to deploy unsafe AI systems. In their desire to win, countries risk endangering themselves just as much as their opponents.

AI promises to bring both enormous benefits, in everything from health care to transportation, and huge risks. But those risks aren’t something out of science fiction; there’s no need to fear a robot uprising. The real threat will come from humans.

Right now, AI systems

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