MODERATOR:  Good afternoon to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub.  I would like to welcome our participants dialing in from across the continent and thank all of you for joining this discussion.  Today, we are very pleased to be joined by Paul Dean, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Arms Control, Deterrence, and Stability at the U.S. State Department.  Mr. Dean will discuss the groundbreaking initiative, the Political Declaration on Responsible Military Use of Artificial Intelligence and Autonomy, and its concrete measures to guide the responsible development and use of military applications of AI and autonomy.  He is speaking to us from Abuja, Nigeria.

We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from Mr. Dean, then we will turn to your questions.  We will try to get to as many of them as we can during the briefing.

As a reminder, today’s call is on the record, and with that, I will turn it over to the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Arms Control, Deterrence, and Stability, Mr. Paul Dean.

MR DEAN:  Well, thank you so much, Tiffany, for that introduction, and thanks to all the journalists who are joining us today.  As my team and I have been visiting Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, and soon Cameroon this week, we’ve really been struck by how much interest and expertise that we’ve found on issues of reducing risk in the areas of emerging technologies and as well as nuclear threats.  And as Tiffany mentioned at the top, when it comes to emerging technologies, a key point in the conversation has really been the Political Declaration on the Responsible Military Use of Artificial Intelligence and Autonomy that last month we were honored to be joined by 47 partners in endorsing and launching the implementation stage of the declaration.

The African states that have joined us, which we are very pleased to partner with in this groundbreaking initiative, include Liberia, Malawi, Morocco, and Libya.  And we are here this week in West Africa encouraging more states to join us.  This is a real opportunity to set the framework of responsibility in guiding responsible development and use of military applications of AI.  The declaration contains ten concrete measures that will guide responsible states in their use of AI and autonomy for military purposes in ways that will reduce risks and contribute to global stability.

We believe that the declaration and the measures that it outlines are an important step in building an international framework of responsible use that will allow all states to harness the great benefits of AI while at the same time managing and mitigating the risks.  The declaration also provides a foundation for practical, tangible collaboration and exchanges, such as the sharing of best practices, expert-level dialogues, and capacity-building activities – all of which should be of interest to all states, including those who are just beginning their journey of determining what, if any, role AI and autonomy would play in their militaries.  The declaration, I really want to emphasize, is intended to be the beginning of this effort and not an end unto itself.

The initiative that we are launching with the endorsement of this declaration to reduce risk in this area of emerging technology is a part of our larger effort to deter conflict and enhance strategic stability using arms control treaties, international agreements, and transparency and confidence-building measures, as appropriate.

We are deeply committed to engaging our partners in multilateral venues and bilaterally, in the UN First Committee, in the CD, and in the NPT, as well as in other fora.  We strongly value engagement in these bodies, including with our African partners.

As one example in the nuclear space, we have recently engaged in intense coordination with UN member states at the General Assembly First Committee this year, in which we sponsored a new resolution on prohibiting the use of radiological weapons.  We were very pleased that that resolution passed with an overwhelming margin, and we very much look forward to continuing to work closely with all of our partners again in Geneva, in New York, bilaterally, on both the radiological weapons, broader issues of nuclear stability, and of course this groundbreaking initiative to promote a normative framework for the responsible use of military AI and autonomy.

So with that, I will conclude my initial response.  I really do want to thank everyone for taking the time to call in today.  Thanks for your interest on these issues, and I am very happy to take some questions.

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much, Mr. Dean.  We’ll now begin the question-and-answer portion of today’s briefing.

Before we get started, I just wanted to just get a sense from you, what do you see as the next steps for this declaration?

MR DEAN:  I think the immediate step is to begin under the framework of this declaration and the 10 measures of responsible use that it contains – the step is to begin the process of working in collaboration with all of our partners and all the stakeholders on this issue to strengthen the principles and, most importantly in my view, to build our mutual capacity to implement them in a practical and tangible way.  We really – I think the spirit in New York last month among all of our partners who gave statements was a real shared commitment that this political declaration is the organizing principle for practical work to ensure that members of the international community who share a commitment to responsibility in this area have a forum and a mandate to begin putting their experts in touch, building capacity, strengthening the measures, and putting ourselves collectively in a position to implement them.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  We have a question that was sent in advance from Mr. Vincent Owino from Nation Media Group in Kenya.  He asks:  “Are there any East African countries that have endorsed the initiative?  Why is it important to the United States that African countries endorse it?”

MR DEAN:  Well, taking that in reverse order, I think we were very pleased that this political declaration reflects a true, across regional, and emerging consensus in the international community, and we were joined by partners from all five UN regional groups.  We think it is extremely important that a diversity of viewpoints be reflected.  We have an opportunity now to work collaboratively to build from the ground up what the international framework of responsibility looks like, and we value the perspectives of our African partners and our partners across the globe in creating these rules of responsibility and moving to the next stage to implement them.  So it’s extremely important to us that we have a wide range of participants, a wide range of viewpoints, and that we have a thoughtful, sustained dialogue that will point in the direction of strengthening these measures and ensuring their successful implementation.

I provided earlier as to the first half of the question that the list of African partners who have, at this point, endorsed the declaration.  I would stress that the door is open to the constructive participation from all states who have a shared interest in developing this framework of responsibility.  And we have many close partners in East Africa and very much I think their participation would be invaluable and highly constructive, because I know that many of our East African partners have a deep and sustained commitment to responsibility, and this is a real opportunity for all countries to demonstrate their leadership on this issue.

MODERATOR:  Thanks.  We’ll take one more that came in advance, and then we’ll take our live question.  We have one from Mr. Sebastien Nemeth from Radio France International.  He asks:  “Among roughly 50 countries which signed the political declaration only a few are African countries.  Why so few?  And do you wish there would be more, and how are you going to convince them to join?”

MR DEAN:  Well, I certainly – as I think I covered in the previous answer, we very much encourage other African partners to join in this important initiative.  I think that there are many reasons states are so interested in working on this issue.  I do think this is an opportunity to really collaboratively build what the rules of responsibility will look like in an area that will have increasing salience and increasing importance as this technology continues to develop and evolve.

I do think that one very attractive feature of the initiative that the political declaration launches is this relationship building, collaboration, and capacity building workstream that I think is a necessary component of ensuring that these ten measures of responsibility are not words on a page but are practical, tangible, concrete measures that guide states’ practical implementation.  And to do that, we have to work together to build capacity and raise awareness of the risks and the solutions for resolving those risks.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  We have a live question from Israel Ojoko from BNN Breaking in Nigeria.  Israel, you are – your line should be open to ask your question.

QUESTION:  Hello.  Thank you.  Can you hear me?

MODERATOR:  Yes, if you could speak up a little.  It’s a little bit cloudy, but please speak up.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Good afternoon from Lagos, Nigeria.  And I’m so glad to be part of this – your meeting this afternoon.  And thanks, Paul, for the explanation and clarity so far that you have given.  It’s interesting to know that the technology is really helping in every areas of our lives today and not just in the advanced world.  It’s also going broader to other African countries and deeper, not just in telephone but also our security, militarily, and all that.

However, I am just curious to know what is the purpose of this initiative?  Okay.  So I just want to know is it that the U.S. is trying to sell its military equipments to African countries or is it that the U.S. is preparing African countries for maybe a war in the nearest future?  I’m just curious to know.  And then number two, what is the benefit of this military AI for African countries?  Thank you very much.

MR DEAN:  Well, thank you, Israel, for the question.  I would say that the benefits of AI to militaries will be quite profound.  And this – these benefits are not limited to battlefield applications, and we very much wanted to design, in concert with our partners, these ten measures in the political declaration to apply much more broadly than battlefield applications.  We wanted these responsibility principles to apply to the full range of military applications of AI.

And AI, as you allude to in your question, will be revolutionary in terms of military decision-making, in terms of logistics, in terms of communications, and in terms of planning.  And we see great benefits in these applications.  It’s certainly my view that artificial intelligence will help militaries deliver on their international humanitarian law obligations.  It will help militaries increase their efficiency in sound, fact-based decision-making.  And so we want the declaration to promote those positive uses of military artificial intelligence.  We do not want to stifle innovation with the declaration.

However, when there – as with any new technology, there are potential risks, and this gets to the first half of your question.  Our motive is to put forward a series of mutually accepted multilateral rules of responsibility that allow us to mitigate and eliminate the risks while promoting the benefits of artificial intelligence in the military.  We think that there is a lot of advantage to be had in creating an initiative where states can collaborate on building awareness of those risks, and in taking concrete steps to address, manage, and eliminate those risks.

I’ll give you one example.  I think that it’s very important – and this is a measure that’s reflected in the political declaration – to – for the international community and for militaries who will be incorporating artificial intelligence to have a rule of responsibility in which we all agree that AI in the military must be designed for a specific purpose.  We don’t want states purchasing AI applications and incorporating them into their militaries for reasons they were not – for functions they were not designed to fulfill.

So it’s a basic principle, but there’s a lot to unpack there.  And I think raising awareness of the risks of unintended consequences based on applications that are not designed for a specific purpose, and then developing rules, procedures, and technical solutions to ensure that states can deliver on that basic measure of responsibility, is one of the fundamental goals of this declaration and this initiative.

MODERATOR:  Thank you for the thorough answer.  At this point we don’t have any further questions.  If there are journalists who would like to continue the discussion, please put your question into the Q&A, or please raise your hand; we’ll be happy to call on you.  But if our – Mr. Dean, if you’d like to sort of wrap up and give some closing remarks, or any great other further examples, we’d love it.  But yes, if you have any further information for our journalists, we will take your final remarks and close out.

MR DEAN:  Well, thank you, Tiffany, and thanks to all of you who have taken the time to join today.  Again, this is just really an exciting opportunity for the international community to project shared leadership, shared commitment to responsibility and stability in developing a normative framework that will address 21st-century military challenges.  We very much look forward to working with all of our endorsing partners.  We encourage additional states to endorse the declaration and work with us on this, and are very much continuing this conversation with our African partners to come in, support this declaration, and work with us to build our mutual capacity to implement it.

So thanks.  I think I’ll stop there.  But thanks to everyone for your interest on this issue.

MODERATOR:  Well, just as you closed out we did get two questions.  (Laughter.)  If you have – you do have a few minutes, I think.  So one of them is regarding enforcement, and it comes from Leslie Fauvel from AFP in Nigeria.  She writes:  “How compelling or compellent is the declaration to the countries who signed it?  What if they do not respect its principles?”

MR DEAN:  Well, I think that we are very fortunate and pleased to have a group of partners endorsing this who are extremely enthusiastic about working in a positive, collaborative way to implement these principles.  I think that stems from a shared understanding that it is in our collective security interest to be on the same page regarding the norms and rules of responsibility as this new technology begins to emerge.  So I’m quite optimistic and quite heartened by the positive spirit that was demonstrated in New York last month when states endorsed the political declaration.  And I’ve been quite heartened by the positive reception that we have received in consultations with our West African partners on this trip and with our broader African partners in other engagements.  So I think this is a real cause for optimism and positivity as we collectively begin to articulate some basic rules of responsibility on AI in military.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  We have another question from – just trying to – Agostinho Leite from Lusa News Agency in Portugal.  He asks:  “Drones, among other unarmed weapons, give us an expression of the kind of war we will be facing in future where AI will have a major role.  Would you have any comment on the recent attack by drones in Nigeria that killed 85 civilians?”

MR DEAN:  Well, of course, at the outset, deepest condolences on this tragedy earlier this week.  And I do go back to the conversation we had earlier on this call about the breadth of applications for artificial intelligence in the military context.  And one, I think, immediate application with tremendous positive upside is how artificial intelligence can assist militaries with decision making.  And I think there will be a tremendous amount of upside to be had with artificial intelligence.

But of course, we must always ensure that we are managing the risk and ensure that both as a policy matter, as a matter of our training, and as a matter of technical capabilities that we understand why the artificial intelligence application is making a recommendation that it is and that we are in a position to audit that, we are in a position to understand it, we are – we have safeguards in place, and that we are only using artificial intelligence applications for purposes that they are designed to fulfill.

You’ll note that many of the statements I just gave you are indeed separate measures of responsibility in the document.  And I think it’s very, very important to have a continued dialogue on this so that states are, as we’ve talked about a couple of times today already, enjoying the benefits to artificial intelligence in the military through sound decision making, but also are doing this in a way that is minimizing and, to the best extent possible, eliminating the risk of unintended consequences.

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much.  And this time, it really does close out our questions.  So you’ve already given us your final remarks, so I would like to thank you, and that will conclude today’s briefing.  I do want to thank Mr. Dean, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Arms Control, Deterrence, and Stability at the U.S. State Department, for joining us, and thank all of our journalists for participating.  If you have any questions about today’s briefing, you may contact the Africa Regional Media Hub at AFMediaHub@state.gov.  Thank you very much.

U.S. Department of State

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