Fri. Jul 12th, 2024
Technology and the Transformation of U.S. Foreign Policy

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Good afternoon, RSA Conference.  (Cheers and applause.)  Wonderful to be with all of you today.  And now we finally know what Ferris Bueller did on his day off.  (Laughter.)  To all of the cyber practitioners, the innovators, the researchers who are here, the business leaders, thank you for welcoming us to the RSA Conference.

Now, it’s true that “move fast and break things” is literally the exact opposite of what we try to do at the State Department.  (Laughter.)

But it’s also true that when it comes to our mandate to try to deliver on the priorities that matter most to our fellow Americans, the issues that are the bread and butter of this conference are increasingly a major focus of our diplomacy.  And that’s really why I’m here today.

Today’s revolutions in technology are at the heart of our competition with geopolitical rivals.  They pose a real test to our security.  And they also represent an engine of historic possibility – for our economies, for our democracies, for our people, for our planet.  Put another way:  Security, stability, prosperity – they are no longer solely analog matters.

The choices that we make today, that you make today, will be decisive and they will reverberate for generations.  That’s why it’s important for me to be here with you – and to share how, under President Biden’s leadership, our administration thinks about this inflection point and to talk about some of the steps that we’re taking to advance our technological competitiveness, to safeguard our democratic values, and to maximize the potential and minimize the risk of critical and emerging technologies.

Now, I think if you step back for a moment, there are three novel developments that have led us and led President Biden to elevate technology in our national security and in our diplomacy.

First, a new generation of general purpose “foundational” technologies are transforming our world.  And it’s no surprise we see six as particularly consequential for our national competitiveness and our national security: microelectronics, advanced computing and quantum technologies, artificial intelligence, biotechnology and biomanufacturing, advanced telecommunications, and clean energy technologies.

And these six are, increasingly, converging.  Semiconductors are powering progress in artificial intelligence and quantum computing.  AI is enabling new developments in synthetic biology.  Digital technologies are driving advancements in clean energy technologies.  The resulting breakthroughs are rewiring every aspect of our lives.

Second, the distinction between the digital and the physical realms is eroding.  Today, our cars, our ports, our hospitals are giant data storage and computing machines vulnerable to cyber hacks.  And the digital forces that drive our modern lives are dependent on scarce physical goods – from critical minerals to semiconductors.

The third big development is this:  Technologies increasingly need to be understood as “stacks” – and we have to be competitive up and down that stack.  That includes hardware, software, talent, and the norms, the rules, and structures which govern how technology is used.

So the test before us is whether we can harness the power of this era of disruption and channel it into greater stability, greater prosperity, greater opportunity.

President Biden is determined not just to pass this “tech test,” but to ace it.

At home, we’ve made historic investments in our technological competitiveness.  The total public capital and private investment generated by the President’s agenda, led by the Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS Act, will amount to $3.5 trillion over the next decade – the biggest investment in our economy and our competitiveness since the New Deal.  These investments enable U.S. businesses to do what we, what so many of you, do best: innovate, scale, compete.

Our ability to design, to develop, to deploy technologies will determine our capacity to shape the tech future.  And naturally, operating from a position of strength better positions us to set standards and advance norms around the world.

But our advantage comes not just from our domestic strength.

It comes from our solidarity with the majority of the world that shares our vision for a vibrant, open, and secure technological future, and from an unmatched network of allies and partners with whom we can work in common cause to pass the “tech test.”

We’re committed not to “digital sovereignty” but “digital solidarity.”

Today, the department that I lead, the State Department, is unveiling the U.S. International Cyberspace and Digital Strategy, which treats digital solidarity as our North Star.  Solidarity informs our approach not only to digital technologies, but to all key foundational technologies.

So what I’d like to do now is share with you five ways that we’re putting this into practice.

First, we’re harnessing technology for the betterment not just of our people and our friends, but of all humanity.

The United States believes emerging and foundational technologies can and should be used to drive development and prosperity, to promote respect for human rights, to solve shared global challenges.

Some of our strategic rivals are working toward a very different goal.  They’re using digital technologies and genomic data collection to surveil their people, to repress human rights.  Weaponizing dominance in critical supply chains to coerce other governments.  Employing AI-based tools to deepen polarization and undermine democracies.

Pretty much everywhere I go, I hear from government officials and citizens alike about their concerns about these dystopian uses of technology.  And I also hear an abiding commitment to our affirmative vision and to the embrace of technology as a pathway to modernization and opportunity.

Our job is to use diplomacy to try to grow this consensus even further – to internationalize and institutionalize our vision of “tech for good.”

Let’s look at artificial intelligence.  AI holds, of course, exhilarating potential for many of the goals of our foreign policy.  Today, the world is on track to achieve just 12 percent of the Sustainable Development Goals.  These are benchmarks that we’re trying to get to, like eradicating hunger and poverty, improving gender equality, expanding access to quality education and clean energy, protecting the environment.

Progress has recently plateaued on half of these goals.  On nearly a third, it’s actually regressing.  It’s going backward.

Now, studies suggest that AI could accelerate progress on a full 80 percent of these goals, in part by automating and improving decision making.  AI can map soil, leading to bigger crop yields for farmers and less hunger in communities.  It can dig through data to predict future threats to public health.  It can synthesize massive amounts of knowledge to improve the quality of everything from our kids’ education to our cities’ infrastructures.

The United States is working to build global momentum around harnessing AI for good.  Just over a month ago, we led the passage of the first-ever standalone resolution on AI in the United Nations General Assembly.

We worked with over 120 co-sponsors, 120 other countries, to craft and adopt this resolution, which gives us a framework for leveraging AI for economic and social progress while respecting human rights.

We’ve got to apply the same playbook to other technologies.

Consider synthetic biology.  DNA synthesizers now cost just thousands of dollars, not millions.  With the right tools, nearly anyone with a college-level science education could read, could write, could edit genetic code.  That opens up incredible potential for breakthroughs in medicine, in public health.  But it also dramatically lowers barriers to someone using this technology for malign purposes, like creating highly transmissible, lethal pathogens.

The United States Government wants to make sure that synthetic biology is directed toward global good – and good for the American people.  Earlier today, just down the road, I visited a biotech company that produces the key starting material for Narcan spray, which reverses opioid overdoses.  Right now in the United States, the leading killer of Americans between the ages of 18 and 49 is not guns, it’s not car accidents, it’s not heart attacks, it’s not cancer; it’s fentanyl, a synthetic opioid.

Well, this antidote, Narcan, can be turned out by the ton in a matter of 96 hours, thanks to synthetic biology.  Using traditional methods, it would take a full two years of farming ten square miles to come up with that same amount.  So we want to see biotech harnessed for more uses like this.

Here, partnerships are absolutely critical.  We’re pursuing global biomanufacturing, supply chain, and research efforts with other countries to unlock positive biotech applications in health, in food security, in climate action, and other global priorities.  And we continue to collaborate with our private sector here at home, so that American innovation is directed toward global good.

Building consensus around an affirmative vision is the first line of our tech diplomacy.  But the rules, the standards, the norms that societies follow are going to determine whether this technology is used for good or whether it’s used for ill.

That’s why our second line of effort is about governance: shaping the rules of the road to ensure that foundational technologies sustain our democratic values and guard against harms.

When it comes to AI, again, as confident as we are in its potential, we’re deeply aware of its risks: from displacing jobs, to generating false information, to promoting bias and discrimination, to enabling the destabilizing use of autonomous weapons.  So we’re working with our partners to prevent and address these issues.

At home, we’ve released guidance that’s shaping how we – and the world – think about safe, secure, and trustworthy AI.  Through the President’s AI Executive Order, we’re strengthening standards for AI safety, security, protecting Americans’ privacy, promoting a rights-respecting approach to AI.

The private sector is a critical partner in this effort – which is why we’ve worked with leading AI companies on a set of voluntary commitments, like pledging to security testing before releasing new products, developing tools to help users recognize AI-generated content.

These governance frameworks are the foundation of our AI diplomacy around the world.  The core elements of our guidance have been adopted by the G7 countries.  These are the leading democracies, the most advanced democracies in the world.

And they now frame the wider international AI safety and trust conversation and they’re embedded in the UN Resolution embraced by virtually all of the global community.

We want the work of our AI governance – and in particular our new U.S. AI Safety Institute – to inform rules, standards, and testing that will help ensure that this technology is used in ways that will benefit people around the world, while preventing harms.  In these efforts, we’re committed to our partnership with the developing world, which must have a seat at the table.

In the military realm, good governance is essential.  That’s why the United States issued the U.S.-led Political Declaration on Responsible Military Use of AI and Autonomy, which has been endorsed already by 55 countries.

We’re taking a similar approach to synthetic biology governance.

We’re limiting the transfer of Americans’ bulk human genomic data to adversaries, while working with partners, including at the G7, to establish standards for security, for privacy, to guard against dangerous applications.

We’re also creating guardrails against the misuse of digital technologies – from building coalitions to prevent the export of intrusive technology and spyware used to harass dissidents or activists, to bringing dozens of countries together to combat ransomware, which steals billions of dollars from our economies every single year.

We’re working with partners to set cyber norms, and we’re working to uphold them around the world – as we did by publicly calling out the PRC for targeting U.S. critical infrastructure and by holding Iran directly accountable for its cyber attacks against Albania, just to cite two examples.

And critically, we’re preparing now for the future of quantum computing.

As this group knows, quantum is potentially the most consequential computing breakthrough of the century.  It could throw into uncharted waters nearly every aspect of security in our society, from banking, to energy grids, to government communications and operations.  So we have to build the standards now to safeguard against these risks.

The United States agency for advancing standards, NIST, is vetting quantum-resistant cryptographic standards and has selected four specific algorithms that are designed to withstand quantum attack.  NIST is now preparing to make these algorithms available worldwide to be integrated into the encryption infrastructure of companies and organizations that want it.

We have got to move quickly with our closest allies and friends both to harness the benefits and to protect against the risks from quantum computing so that we don’t fall behind as rivals pour money into developing machines with capabilities beyond even the most powerful supercomputers.

Of course, to write the rules of the road, the United States must compete across the globe in the technologies that will shape our digital and physical experience and, by extension, our geopolitical realities.  And that’s the third line of our tech diplomacy.

We’ve learned from the 5G experience that we cannot be complacent and let strategic competitors dominate the technologies that form the backbone of the global economy and that determine how and where information flows.

That’s why we’re unleashing our diplomatic arsenal to help innovative companies from the United States and our partners fairly compete for opportunities up and down the stack that will help preserve and expand a secure, an open, a resilient tech world.

And in keeping with our principle of digital solidarity, we’re committed to working with any country or company that’s committed to that same vision, not just American firms.

Take undersea cables as one example.  These massive bundles of fiber optic cords carry more than 95 percent of the world’s digital traffic across the ocean floor.  Any disruption or compromise could isolate a country, threaten national security, lead to billions of dollars in damages.

With that in mind, we’re investing in the installation and operation of secure infrastructure to connect every region of the globe.  We’ve partnered with Australia, with Japan, with New Zealand, with Taiwan on a cable that will connect up to 100,000 people across the spread-out Pacific Islands.  We’re supporting similar efforts in South America, Africa, the Indo-Pacific.

We’re applying that playbook to cloud computing and data storage.  In these arenas, the United States currently leads the world, but providers from authoritarian states are increasingly competitive.  It is critical that we work with trusted vendors and exclude untrustworthy ones from the ecosystem.  And we can only do that if we establish economies of scale with our partners and draw on our respective competitive advantage.

We’ve got to take a similar approach to emerging technologies, including biotechnology.

We need to guard against dependence on genomic sequencing and other biotech hardware from untrusted vendors or countries.

Just imagine for a second the disastrous consequences if the world’s genomic surveillance infrastructure came to be dominated by one of our authoritarian rivals.  Mass surveillance combining genetic information, facial or voice recognition technology, and other forms of tracking could become commonplace and impossible to reverse.

Competing effectively abroad will depend on our fourth line of diplomatic effort: building resilient and trusted technology ecosystems.

Tech ecosystems mean everything from research and development, to manufacturing, to markets, and also supply chains.

Right now, the world’s tech manufacturing infrastructure is dangerously concentrated in a few narrow geographic areas.  And in the event of military conflict, natural disaster, those supply chains could be cut off.

To lessen that risk, the United States is forging tech partnerships that will make critical technology supply chains more resilient, more diverse, more secure.  And that includes for critical minerals, which are essential to scaling up clean energy technologies.

Today, the United States produces just 1 percent of the nickel, 4 percent of the lithium, 13 percent of the cobalt, 0 percent of the graphite required to meet current EV demand.  Meanwhile, 80 percent of critical minerals are processed by China.

We want to strengthen and diversify critical mineral supply chains to meet the rising demand while, again, guarding against dangerous dependencies.  Two years ago, the United States set up the Minerals Security Partnership, now joined by 14 countries and the European Union, which together represent more than half of global GDP.  The MSP is working on nearly two dozen projects around the world across the supply chain, from mining, to extraction, to processing, to recycling, to recovery.

We’re doing something similar with semiconductors.

And, of course, let’s not forget semiconductors are an American invention, some of the very first chips soldered together in garages just down the road in Palo Alto.  But today, the United States manufacturing base produces just 10 percent of the world’s chips.  That dependence is a serious economic and national security concern.

President Biden is committed to regaining America’s position as a semiconductor manufacturing powerhouse.  The President’s CHIPS and Science Act makes a nearly $53 billion investment to that end.  Since the start of the Biden administration, private companies have announced $395 billion in semiconductor and electronics investments here in the United States.

These investments are revitalizing our industrial manufacturing base and workforce, driving more prosperity for our communities.  Soon, Silicon Valley will be augmented by chip foundries across the nation from Oregon to New Mexico to Ohio.

Of course, we’ll never be able to manufacture everything at home.  We don’t need to.  And we don’t want to.

So we’re incentivizing our partners to invest in their own semiconductor innovation bases.  The CHIPS Act $500 million International Technology Security and Innovation Fund – what we call the ITSI Fund – along with similar efforts by the OECD – is helping diversify and secure every single link in the silicon supply chain, working with partners like Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia.

We need to apply this same trusted tech ecosystem logic to the technologies of the future.  We may be a few years away from the next generation of quantum computing.  We may not yet know which pathway takes us there.  But we have to apply today’s lessons in chips and critical minerals to build markets to deepen the quantum ecosystem among trusted countries.

We know the driver of all of this innovation is talent.  To retain our position as the world’s tech leader and standard setter, we also need to build the world’s best workforce.  We’ve made it a priority to attract, to train, to retain high-tech workers, and to make sure the world’s top minds can innovate here in the United States.  We’ve streamlined the visa application process; opened new pipelines for foreign nationals with AI expertise to come to the United States to research, to study, to train; we’ve invested in educational exchanges and research partnerships around the world.

Fifth, and finally, we’re adopting a “small yard, high fence” approach to protect the most sensitive technologies.

When it comes to technologies with clear connections to military capabilities and human rights abuses, we have to slow down our competitors’ efforts.

We can’t tolerate technologies that the United States has developed being used against us or our friends, falling into the hands of bad actors, or helping advance the military capabilities of strategic competitors.

That’s why we issued carefully tailored restrictions on advanced semiconductor exports.  Advanced semiconductors are the backbone of frontier AI and future military capabilities.  It’s a national security imperative that these technologies not aid or accelerate the military modernization of countries that seek to challenge the United States.

We’re also enhancing our security and scrutiny of inbound and outbound investments in sensitive technologies for these same national security reasons.

But we’re not doing this alone.  We’re working collaboratively with partners to ensure that these efforts are carried out consistently and more effectively around the world.

So those are, in brief, the major lines of our tech diplomacy.  And to successfully execute on this vision, we’re building a State Department and a diplomatic corps that’s capable of helping to shape the strategic landscape, not just react to it.

Two years ago, we launched the Bureau of Cybersecurity and Digital Policy and the Office of the Special Envoy for Emerging Technologies.

We’ve led a intensive effort to recruit, to hire, to train diverse talent with tech expertise throughout the building.

We’ve brought on data scientists – PhD biophysicists, chemists, computer scientists – to advance our diplomacy with technological rigor.  We’re expanding the tech proficiency of our embassies and our consulates abroad.  We’re aiming to have a trained digital officer in every embassy by the end of this year.

We’re also improving how our diplomats take advantage of new tools.  This year, we began piloting generative AI and other machine learning capabilities to help search, summarize, translate, and draft documents.  That allows our diplomats to spend less time face to screen and more time face to face with our partners.

And we’re enhancing our outreach to the private sector, to academia, to civil society – to all of you.  We need your partnership to sharpen our thinking, to inform our diplomacy, to help us see around the corners, to prepare for the innovations to come – even to tell us what we’re missing and where we need to do better.

Your role as partners in this is the difference between winning and losing the tech competition.  And it’s essential in helping to bring about a more democratic world where the rule of law is upheld, where dictators and aggressors are held accountable.

There’s perhaps no better example of this in recent years than the work we’ve done together in Ukraine.  When Russia launched its war of aggression, it subjected the country’s infrastructure to an onslaught of cyber attacks.

The United States Government, our international partners, and, perhaps most consequentially, our technology community all understood the need to help the Ukrainians batten down the digital hatches.  So we helped them harden their networks, migrate vital government data to the cloud, bolster the resilience of national communications and other critical infrastructure.  That is digital solidarity in action.  And it’s the kind of collaboration that we want to scale and apply around the world.

Now, even the most far-sighted among us don’t know for sure what the tech future will look like, or exactly how emerging technologies will be used.  When Gutenberg invented the printing press, he wanted to print bibles – little did he know that his invention would spark the Scientific Revolution and the Reformation.  Thomas Edison envisioned the phonograph as a “talking book” for the visually impaired, not realizing he had invented the precursor to the radio.

Working together, we can seize this extraordinary inflection point to shape a future that reflects our best values, that advances our interests, and that makes life just a little bit safer, a little bit more secure, a little bit more prosperous, a little bit more full of opportunity for all.  That is fundamentally what passing the tech test means.  And that’s what we want to do – together.

So thank you so much for having us here today.  Thanks for the partnership.  Have a great conference.  Thank you.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

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originally published at Politics - JISIP NEWS