Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a meeting on a development of artificial intelligence technology at School 21 educational centre for software engineering in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, May 30, 2019.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a meeting on a development of artificial intelligence technology at School 21 educational centre for software engineering in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, May 30, 2019. Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

Putin Drops Hints about Upcoming National AI Strategy

Russian leader calls for “technological sovereignty” and, somewhat surprisingly, for protecting IP and civil rights.

Offering the best hints yet about the upcoming national artificial intelligence strategy, Russian President Vladimir Putin outlined several pragmatic lines of effort: training programs, public-private cooperation, legislative support, efforts to build on Russia’s STEM strengths. Somewhat surprisingly, he also suggested that the government would seek to enshrine and protect new intellectual property and citizens’ rights.

As related by TASS, a government information agency, Putin’s May 30 speech revealed a few details about the strategy, which is expected in June. Russian academics, officials, and businesspeople have been steadily building up to this point, holding conferences, events, and making public statements about the need to develop national AI infrastructure.

In his speech, Putin declared that the crucial condition for AI development is “the readiness of society, citizens for the widespread introduction of such technologies. It is therefore necessary to provide widespread digital education, to launch retraining programs” in certain professions.

More funding is also necessary, Putin said, both from state coffers and by wooing investors through public-private cooperation. For the former, Putin and his ministers raised the possibility of investing up to $1.4 billion in domestic AI development in the next several years. As for the latter, he called upon Russian companies to join AI efforts, and said he was personally ready to talk to any company that was hesitant.

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The increased funding will spur “the creation of fundamentally new reserves, mathematical methods, principles of operation of artificial intelligence, including—by analogy with the human brain,” Putin said. “Russia should become one of the key platforms for solving complex scientific problems with the participation of scientists from around the world.” 

He said some of this work can be organized or performed at international mathematical centers, like the ones slated to open next year in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Sochi.

Perhaps responding to concerns about intellectual property rights in Russia — and the related emigration of talented IT developers – Putin said that “it is necessary to guarantee reliable protection of intellectual property, legal conditions for the registration of patents in the national jurisdiction of Russia.”

Putin also called for new legislation to foster AI — and to ensure the rights of citizens and their safety. 

“It is fundamentally important to tune our legislation to a new technological reality, quickly and efficiently form a flexible, adequate legal basis for the development and use of artificial intelligence-based application solutions, as well as special regimes for private investment in creating breakthrough solutions," he said.

Ultimately, the Russian leader said, his country must at the least develop “technological sovereignty” in AI: “This is the most important condition for the viability of our business and the economy, the quality of life of Russian citizens, the security and defense capability of the state.”

Putin also reiterated his belief that AI will offer unprecedented power — including military power — to any government that builds a big enough lead in the technology. 

“Mechanisms of artificial intelligence provide real-time fast decision-making based on the analysis of huge amounts of information, which gives tremendous advantages in quality and effectiveness,” he said “If someone can provide a monopoly in the field of artificial intelligence, then the consequences are clear to all of us: he will rule the world.” 

In the quest for AI, he said, Russia has “good starting conditions and serious competitive advantages.” These include its “traditionally strong scientific and educational schools in mathematics and physics, on a competitive system of training specialists in the field of IT,” and “one of the highest global penetration rates for mobile communications and the Internet.” These have fostered world-class scientific research and products, “including in such areas as computer vision and voice recognition, as well as cybersecurity,” he said.

Putin spoke at School #21, a public-private venture set up by the state and Sberbank to prepare IT professionals.

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