Our Takes

Although it may temporarily disrupt the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin’s possible death will not stop Russia’s security services from continuing malign influence operations around the world, Managing Director David Salvo told the Washington Post.

The United States must set rules of the road for the use of artificial intelligence—like through the adoption of content authenticity regimes—before 2024 to protect democracy and objective reality, Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman said in her testimony before the Virginia State Legislature’s Joint Commission on Technology and Science.

China wants to keep Russia strong enough to antagonize Western democracies and avert collapse, but still too weak to challenge China’s geopolitical position, Research Analyst Etienne Soula told CNBC.

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Q&A with Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman

The Securing Democracy Dispatch continues with its Q&A series this week. Today, we sat down with Lindsay Gorman, senior fellow for emerging technologies at ASD, to discuss technology and US competition with China.

What first made you realize you wanted to prioritize democracy-affirming technology?

Early on in my time with ASD, I read Yuval Noah Harrai’s article, “Why Technology Favors Tyranny”, which discusses technology in the context of the asymmetries between democracy and autocracy. I became concerned that autocracies like China might have a leg up on some of the major advances in artificial intelligence and biotechnology due to a willingness to flout ethical norms, amass data irrespective of privacy concerns, exploit biases, and leverage blackbox AI systems that are accountable to no one. At the same time, it was clear that attitudes towards social media had soured. Platforms went from being thought of in the early internet days as a force for democratization to being seen today as driving wedges in democracies and creating space for weaponized information to thrive—in many ways an autocrat’s dream. I thought that we needed to be a bit more intentional about building our democratic values into the next generation of technologies to go viral, rather than leave it up to chance as we did with the early internet and social media. It turns out, when autocratic countries like China and Russia deliberately promote their values of censorship, surveillance, and control through technology architectures, it isn’t enough for democracies not to do the same with our own values of freedom of expression, transparency, trusted access to information, fairness, inclusion, and equity.

As head of ASD’s technology and geopolitics team, what do you see as the biggest challenge we face today on this front? 

Much of our team’s work focuses on the China technology threat, and we’ve made a lot of progress as a country—and also as a transatlantic alliance—in coming to grips with that autocratic challenge. But I still see the biggest challenge as decisively winning this emerging technology competition and securing a prosperous democratic future for the long term. Right now, we have a tenuous consensus on the need to act, but lack a blueprint over the medium term for how to do so in a way that doubles down on our own advantages without undermining them. Getting this right is the challenge of our time.

How would you evaluate US-China competition with emerging technologies? Who is in the lead and is the United States doing what it needs to do on this front? What are the stakes?

If you look industry by industry, what’s clear is that this is a close competition. The United States leads in some areas like generative AI and large language models, whereas China leads in 5G and applications of AI in surveillance systems. The United States—and crucially, I would add, its democratic partners and allies in Europe and around the world—is starting to do what it needs to with investments in our own innovation base in the CHIPS and Science Act, as well as defensive efforts on technology outbound investment screening. But there is way more to be done, and if anything, this isn’t a one-time deal, but a continuing competition. Coordinating defense measures like technology export controls and investment screening with allies and partners and building in regularity and semi-permanence to new industrial policy steps we’ve taken are atop my list of what comes next. And the stakes could not be higher.

What is one trend or statistic that you are watching? 

Last month, a Pew Research Center survey found that about six in ten Americans now see TikTok as a major or minor national security threat. Just 17% say it isn’t a threat and 23% aren’t sure. When we started warning about these national security concerns years ago, we were somewhat laughed out of the room—how could a lip sync and dance meme app be a national security problem? I think the shifting attitudes are indicative of this broader trend recognizing the autocratic technology threat China poses to liberal democratic values. Whether it’s TikTok, Huawei, or new frontiers in biotechnology, I’m obsessed with tracking how actors in democracies—from politicians in Europe to venture capitalists in Silicon Valley to publics around the world—conceive of China as a systemic rival.

What is one book you’re reading? 

Beijing Rules by Bethany Allen-Ibrahim. Economic coercion has long been part of China’s toolkit for autocratic manipulation, including its efforts to gain advantage in emerging technologies. And Bethany knows these issues better than anyone.

Quote of the Week

“We have to trust that we are prepared to push back…otherwise, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has an upper hand. If we are afraid in Ukraine, we might be afraid in Lithuania. We might be afraid in Poland. We might be afraid in Spain. We have to push back on fear.”

  • Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said during a conference in Santander, Spain on August 21.

The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.