Artificial intelligence technology is waiting for its Sputnik moment.

The Soviet Union put its infamous unmanned probe into orbit around our planet in 1957. Though Sputnik resembled a two-foot wide beach ball and barely weighed 200 pounds, it was a shot heard around the world. Sputnik signaled that there was new territory in play for world powers to jockey and improve their positions. The United States formed NASA the very next year, and manned space exploration became practical reality soon after that.

There’s a clear comparison between the space race of the 1960s and the present-day surge in national AI development. Where rocket design and space exploration were the hallmarks of any major country back then, the new battlefield for technological superiority is artificial intelligence. Countries that develop sufficiently advanced AI tools will gain access to a new category of tools to use for the benefit of their citizens and the disadvantage of their rivals.

Take it from Vladimir Putin, who saidin 2017that whichever country becomes a leader in artificial intelligence “will become ruler of the world.” China, Russia, Israel, and the United States generally set the tone for AI research today. Though these countries are divided by culture and distance, they (and many others) agree: there’s just too much to gain here, so AI research is heating up.

There have already been incremental shifts demonstrating the rise of AI, like Garry Kasparov’s 1997 defeat at the chessboard by Deep Blue or the genesis of practical driverless vehicles that rely on AI technology today. But it seems we’re still waiting for a paradigm shift here — the public mostly forms its impressions of artificial intelligence from entertainment. When everyday people recognize movie-style AI technology in the real world, they’ll begin to understand its full impact

But the “secret” is already out for many. AI startups made approximately$5 billionworth of equity deals in 2016, and this value has been growing by approximately 50 percent every year since. Governments and research institutions around the world have their own projects that we may or may not ever know about. AI isn’t necessarily providing transformative value to everyday people just yet, but its value to business and governments is already well-established.

Here’s why developed nations should be doubling down on AI research and development.

AI development is a matter of national security

We already have artificially intelligent “listening” systems today that monitor a country’s network for signs of external cyber attack. But as more money floods the space, imagine that capacity turned up to ten: future AI agents might be especially good codebreakers, or could even fly a drone and engage enemy targets without any human control.

Wherever people are already working to protect their countries, sufficiently advanced AI can automate some of that cognitive work. That means human effort goes further and a country’s defensive systems are vastly improved.

AI breakthroughs are major public relations victories on the world stage

China, Russia, Israel, and the US generally set the tone for AI development today. If a smaller country should have something truly interesting to announce from its own development efforts, then that country is instantly on the same level as these major players. The right flex of AI superiority will be enough to make world superpowers flinch.

But until a breakthrough development in AI cements one nation or another as the leader, countries will compete by spending money. The 1965 budget for the US space program budget was$7 billion, while the Soviet budget was an estimated $5 billion. Though these details were highly secretive at the time, they’re exactly the kinds of data points that fuel PR battles today.

The size of a budget is just a number, but access to that budget for research and development will be a vital part of AI reaching its maximum potential. Until a public breakthrough establishes one country or another as leading the pack in AI develo

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