US must seek international cyberspace norms with China, Russia: experts

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America must work with rival nations to develop international norms for developing technologies such artificial intelligence or face increasingly difficult challenges in tackling misinformation and cyberwarfare, experts have said.

"I like to think of this as sort of where things were 20 years ago in tech, where we were incredibly naïve," said Eric Schmidt, former Google CEO and current Chairman of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, said Friday at the Aspen Security Forum. "I was very naive about the impact of what we were doing. I now understand that information is everything: It's incredibly powerful."

Much of the security forum focused on various challenges the United States and western allies face at the international level from rival nations Russia, China and Iran.

"When we talk about information operations, we usually say the Russians are the most prolific, the Chinese are the most sophisticated, and the Iranians are the most angry," Brad Smith, CEO of Microsoft, said. "Most of their anger is not directed at the United States, but it is directed at American allies."

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The three nations mainly make headlines regarding their more obvious military aggressions against neighboring countries – Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; China’s posturing on a possible Taiwan invasion; and Iran supporting Houthi activities in various Middle Eastern countries.

But cybersecurity experts have tried to draw more attention to the arena of cyberwarfare, including both the use of misinformation and the development of technology to improve weapons and information technology.

"So I think the first comment I would make is I think that the government and other institutions should put more pressure on tech to get these things consistent with our values and so forth," he continued. "I suspect we all agree - we can debate how to do it, but it requires a conversation; it requires engagement."

Schmidt specifically highlighted the complications surrounding negotiations of a possible A.I. agreement between countries: He argued that finding common ground between China and the U.S. would likely prove more challenging than people realize despite the apparent importance and need for such agreements.

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"How would we do it?" he asked of the Chinese side. "Who do we call? I’ve tried to find that person and I can’t find them. We’re not ready for the negotiations we need."

He likened artificial intelligence to nuclear weapons, with the latter showing that rival nations can come to an agreement on procedures and systems regarding vital and dangerous assets.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 16: Eric Schmidt, former chairman and CEO at GOOGLE visits Fox Business Network Studios on April 16, 2019 in New York City. <span class="copyright">Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images</span>
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 16: Eric Schmidt, former chairman and CEO at GOOGLE visits Fox Business Network Studios on April 16, 2019 in New York City. Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. and Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, noted that America did create the problem in the 1990s by walking away from efforts to create an international norm for cyber rules.

"I get it because there are still folks in our government, I have some sympathy for this," he explained. "Say we adhere to cyber norms and the bad guys won't - I think we at least ought to have a debate about, say, if you bring down a health care system: Should there be a lower attribution rule in terms of going after the actors than if you're taking down something else?"

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Smith agreed, urging the U.S. to find ways to develop "stronger norms" for cyberspace.

"I think sometimes people are too quick to dismiss the importance of international norms by saying things like, well, why should we create rules if we know that other people are going to violate them?" he added. "The truth is, there's never been a rule that wasn't violated by somebody. That's why we have police forces and courts."

But rules alone will not limit the possibilities and uses of such technologies: The development of the physical hardware must take priority as well, according to Warner.

"America went from about 33% of the chip manufacturing - about seven or eight years ago or ten years ago - we're down to about 10 or 11%," he said. "China has almost done the complete reverse of that, and they are, you know, again, north of $150 billion in direct subsidy into that field."