Whoever reaches a breakthrough in developing artificial intelligence will come to dominate the world

Wladimir Putin
fot. Global Panorama z Flickr

This is what the Russian President claimed in September 2017. Such statements were then followed by announcement of various state artificial intelligence development programmes. That seemed as though Vladimir Putin was willing to take the lead in the worldwide tech-race. Yet, how much progress has Russia actually made since then in its endeavour to take over the global AI market?

In her article for The Civil Affairs Institute (ISO), Alisa Petrovska explores Russian high-tech advancements achieved in the recent years and their potential implications for global security.

A daring take off

It was in Yaroslavl back in 2017 during the All-Russian Youth Forum when Putin stated that the leader in the field of AI would become the ruler of the world. Among Russian public, those claims sparked some hope for narrowing the technological gap within major world economies. Through western media lens however, that was perceived as a potential warning.

Following Putin’s speech, a presidential decree titled „On the Development of Artificial Intelligence in the Russian Federation”[1] was issued in October 2019. It  paved the way for various national initiatives and the 2022 establishment of the National Centre for Artificial Intelligence[2]. Despite the efforts, budget cuts have hindered the implementation of AI programs. Whereas players like the USA or China unhesitatingly invested billions of dollars in the R&D (Research and Development) sector (according to the data from 2020: $612.714 billion and $514.798 billion respectively[3]), Russian expenditures accounted for only a fraction of those amounts ($38.549 billion[4]). Moreover, the funds allocated to AI development were being significantly reduced, raising concerns about Russia’s ability to catch up with global leaders in the field.

Closed ecosystem?

What further impedes technological progress in Russian environment, is a competitive atmosphere. Counter to what Putin stated in that remarkable Yaroslavl speech, not only is there no sign of Russia disclosing its AI revelations to foreign researchers, but not even a slightest cooperation among Russian tech companies alone. That being said, one needs to consider the scale of disparity in technology investments between public (up o 70%) and private (no more than 30%) sector[5].

What’s more, excluding smaller companies from the market access results in monopolizing the AI industry under the control of backseat-driven by the government conglomerates or corporations like SberTech or Cognitive Technologies, just to name a few. Besides, ambiguities in patents’ registration hinder their accessibility for small AI start-ups. Vagueness surrounding legal regulations regarding intellectual property management and software usage pose another significant obstacle for Russia’s entry into the global AI community. Last but not least, Russia faces also a shortage of skilled IT professionals, exacerbated by the emigration of approximately 100,000 specialists in 2022[6] amidst the ongoing war in Ukraine.

In pursuit of AI, in pursuit of power

Despite numerous claims about possessing state-of-the-art technology[7], Russia seems rather incapable of seriously fulfilling its AI dreams. To ensure a diverse technological ecosystem and foster AI development, Russia would have to encourage openness and trust towards new technologies. In order to meet the evolving job market demands a reform of the federal education system might be needed as well.

It appears that gradual development of certain high-tech areas poses yet a greater threat to Russian citizens themselves than to other nations. For in a authoritarian-oligarchic state innovative technology is primarily a weapon in hands of those in charge. The weapon that oppressive authorities will draw against disobedient citizens first. But then time may come for the rest.

A full version of the text in Polish Petrovska – Sztuczna inteligencja: „Kto zostanie liderem w tej dziedzinie, będzie władcą świata”.

English language version by Berenika Serwatka

[1] http://publication.pravo.gov.ru/Document/View/0001201910110003, [dostęp: 08.05.2023]
[2] https://национальныепроекты.рф/projects/tsifrovaya-ekonomika/p-iskusstvennyy-intellekt-p, [dostęp: 08.05.2023
[3] https://data.oecd.org/rd/gross-domestic-spending-on-r-d.htm, [dostęp: 08.05.2023]
[4] https://data.oecd.org/rd/gross-domestic-spending-on-r-d.htm, [dostęp: 08.05.2023]
[5]  A short statistical compendium 'Science. Technologies. Innovations” by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education of the Russian Federation, the Federal State Statistics Service and the Higher School of Economics,  2019: https://issek.hse.ru/data/2018/12/11/1144788865/niio2019.pdf, [dostęp: 08.05.2023]
[6]  Information provided in accordance with the words of the head of the Ministry of Digital Development of the Russian Federation Maksut Shadaev on 09.02.2023: https://inclient.ru/outflow-it-specialists/?fbclid=IwAR1hwOmMYgBtKKfLfbzNfuoFkEZH0tFd24C4_eWMrQH393m-iyqSFMXyQOs, [dostęp: 08.05.2023]
[7] «Russia is Lying About its AI Capabilities: How Russia is Using Emerging Technologies to Hide Human Rights Violations”, by Lauren Kahn, October 20, 2022

Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway – Active citizens fund

Działania organizacji w latach 2022-2024 dofinansowane z Funduszy Norweskich w ramach Programu Aktywni Obywatele – Fundusz Regionalny.

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