published : 2023-08-26

Putin's Aspirational Approach to AI for Information Control and Reducing Western Tech Dependence

AI could enable Russia to decrease Western influences, but experts deem the goal as primarily 'aspirational'

A silhouette image of Vladimir Putin against a backdrop of a digital world map showcasing emphasis on Russia, with the tagline 'Striving towards Technological Independence'. Taken with Canon EOS R5

Vladimir Putin's grand vision to bolster artificial intelligence (AI) to fortify information control in Russia continues to be distant due to present technological limitations.

On August 23, a missile complex in Russian-occupied Crimea was obliterated by a Ukrainian strike according to Ukraine’s military intelligence agency.

Contrary to Putin's hopes, experts like Rebekah Koffler, president of Doctrine & Strategy Consulting and former Defense Intelligence Agency officer, believe Russia has not thoroughly operationalized the concept of AI-enabled combat capabilities to make targeting more effective.

Koffler appraises that Russian efforts in the field remain largely aspirational.

She cited major ideas articulated in military journals, but a practical deficit between these ideas and the realization of these goals.

Russia has devoted many years to AI development even before its conventional significance, aiming for wider applications rather than the capabilities of platforms like ChatGPT.

However, Putin voices unease about potential Western dominance in AI technology.

An abstract representation of an AI model, presented as an interconnected web of neurons. A single, highlighted path suggests the potential bias from Western sources. Taken with Nikon D780

He is concerned that AI like ChatGPT, trained predominantly on English-language media, could harbor biases from such sources.

For instance, when a Russian-language AI was asked about color revolutions—a term denoting protests in post-Soviet states— it responded with information about democratic movements, contradicting Russian portrayal of these events as coups.

Consequently, the control of information remains a critical interest for Putin.

He has expended considerable resources manipulating perceptions of Russia's involvement in Ukraine, using terms like 'special operation' and propagating an alleged noble purpose of 'denazification'.

Experts have previously expressed apprehension over AI's potential to amplify and propagate misinformation, through means including deepfakes and 'hallucinations'—creations of AI models.

AI has been implicated in viral political disinformation, with instances including a doctored video of Joe Biden making derogatory comments about transgender people, and AI-generated images of children purportedly learning Satanism.

Such instances of disinformation could potentially lead to AI model creators avoiding sensitive issues to protect themselves, resulting in self-censorship that could inhibit model growth.

A picture representing 'Information Control'. A silver padlock on a thick book labeled 'Information', placed beside a miniature model of a soldier, symbolizing defense and security. The image is captured in a somber tone under low light. Taken with Sony Alpha 7R IV

AI has also been abused in privacy invasions and character assassinations as witnessed in the Turkish presidential election where a candidate withdrew, accusing his opponents of using a deepfake sex tape to tarnish his reputation.

The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) emphasized the strategic importance Putin places on AI, positing that Russia's global standing, sovereignty, and security would be influenced by progress in AI research and development.

In the aftermath of the Ukraine invasion, this ambition has evolved into Russia's striving for 'technological sovereignty', aiming to cut dependence on Western technology.

However, the potential of AI and cherished 'information security' create a dichotomy Putin must reconcile; yet experts believe he is more likely to favor information control.

Even with a focus on military applications of AI, it seems these efforts currently lag behind their intended goals.

AI in Russia is seen as pivotal for wartime and defense-related decision-making, employing an algorithm-based approach similar to those used in the U.S. car- and life-insurance industries.

Contending with the complexities of 'technological sovereignty', Russia's AI journey is decidedly aspirational, reflecting how the pursuit of AI control is both a complex and globally relevant topic.