Vladimir Putin wants to catch up with the West in AI

SIX YEARS ago, before anyone had heard of ChatGoogle TagVladimir Putin said that the country that led the development of artificial intelligence (AI) would become the “leader of the world”. He echoed that sentiment in December, when he suggested that Russia should “take the lead and lead” the country's march. AI. The comments came in response to a video caller in a televised phone interview who impersonated the Russian president, apparently using a AI-a generated deepfake, seemingly surprising the real-life strongman for a moment.

For Mr. Putin, “to lead” AI is part of an ideological battle with the West. The success of tools like ChatGoogle Tagdeveloped by an American startup called OpenAIled him to denounce the dangers of relying on the West AIs trained on English language data. The “major linguistic models” of the West (LLMs) could, Mr. Putin asserts, “cancel” Russia’s perspective on the world if it is not challenged. They also threaten a regime that has sought to control the Russian internet in recent years, a process accelerated by the invasion of Ukraine. Unsurprisingly, the Kremlin banned ChatGoogle Tag shortly after its launch in November 2022. Several Russian companies are working hard to try to create alternatives.

Last year, Sber, a state lender with tech ambitions that was first tasked by the Kremlin with AI development in 2019, launched GigaChat, a chatbot that combines fluency in Russian with the ability to generate computer code and images. Yandex, the Russian search giant, has integrated a LLMYandexGoogle Tag-2, in its virtual assistant service, known as “Alice”.

Models are excellent at fitting the party line. Alice, for example, refused to answer The Economiston the war in Ukraine or on Alexeï Navalny, the main Russian opponent imprisoned in Siberia. It is less obvious that they are capable of outwitting the West. AIs. Yandex claims that YandexGoogle Tag-2 does better than Google Tag-3.5, the model behind an earlier version of ChatGoogle Tag, answering questions in Russian. But Western experts consulted by The Economist We have found no independent analysis to confirm this claim, and there have been no public comparisons with Google Tag-4, the much more powerful current iteration of OpenAIthe model.

Russia also lags behind the West in many areas. AI-innovation indicators. A report by Stanford University says that as of 2022, the country has produced only one “significant” machine learning system, compared to 16 in America and eight in Britain. In June 2023, Russia was thought to have only seven of the world's 500 most powerful supercomputers, compared to 150 in the United States. Russia also ranked 38th out of 193 countries in the latest ranking. AI-readiness index from Oxford Insights, a consultancy; America came first.

To catch up, Mr. Putin plans an ambitious plan AI strategy to replace a 2019 precedent. The Kremlin's list of “initial instructions”, published in January, suggests that this new plan will aim to increase Russia's supercomputing capacity, expand the training of AI professionals and improve cooperation between BRICSa bloc that includes China and India.

Mr Putin's instructions seem unrealistic, to put it politely. The war led many Russian developers and engineers to flee the country: one Kremlin official suggested that 100,000 HE specialists left in 2022 alone, or about 10% of the tech workforce. Arkady Volozh, the founder of Yandex, lives in exile in Britain and Israel after criticizing the invasion. Sanctions limit Russia's access to advanced chips, which are made almost exclusively by American, South Korean and Taiwanese companies, all of which are part of the anti-Russian alliance. In Russia's war economy, private investment in technology is, unsurprisingly, declining. The value of venture capital invested in the sector was only $71 million in 2023, according to DSight, a Moscow-based business intelligence company, down 83% from the previous year.

Mr. Putin's response is, as with most things in Russia these days, to tighten the state's grip on industry. In 2022, Yandex sold its news and blogging services to V.K., a state-controlled online conglomerate. On February 5, its parent company, based in the Netherlands and listed in New York, announced that it would sell the Russian business (which represents 95% of its turnover) for $5 billion to a consortium led by a branch of Lukoil, an energy company. The Kremlin welcomed the agreement. State-owned entities such as Rostec, a defense group, and Gazprom Neft, a subsidiary of the country's largest energy company, are also interested. AI. Sber CEO German Gref says the bank invests about $1 billion a year in the technology.

However, these sums are insignificant compared to the tens of billions of dollars spent by the United States. AI champions like Alphabet and Microsoft (which has a partnership with OpenAI). Government money leads to inefficiency and a lack of competition – hardly a recipe for innovation. It also encourages the development AI for the battlefield rather than the market.

On the defensive

Russia has made progress in the military field AI, estimates Katarzyna Zysk of the Norwegian Institute for Defense Studies, a think tank, particularly on drones. But in the West and even Russia's ally China, enthusiasm for machine learning has been fueled primarily by recent advances in general-purpose applications such as Chat.Google Tag, not specialized aircraft like unmanned aircraft. Western and Chinese strategists are counting on such a rapid improvement in civilian capabilities. AI to confer economic and, ultimately, geopolitical and military advantage. As long as it remains on a war footing, Russia will not make much progress on this front.

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