February 2023School of Diplomacy News

Conversations with Dr. Margarita Konanev

Sophia Alicea
Staff Writer

Dr. Margarita Konaev, Deputy Director of Analysis and Research Fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET), spoke at the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) Innovations Dialogue for Artificial Intelligence (AI) Disruption, Peace, and Security in December 2022. As a member of the event’s second panel, Dr. Konaev tackled conversations on the uses of AI in military operations, including the potential risks and rewards of AI use in international peace and security. 

Dr. Konaev discussed the relationship between the use of AI and United States autonomy. The speaker elaborated on the value of strategic implications and the trust between humans and machines while attempting to enhance collaboration between militaries. She noted that the development of AI is not a weapon, but an enabler. As modern warfare is so complex, Dr. Konaev noted, speed and precision are crucial. Even if it is precise, AI cannot replace humans, as they must interact with the military. More research is needed before using AI in war is a possibility, and it should be noted that not every military needs AI strategy, the formal recognition of AI depends on nations’ tradeoffs, and AI comes with much uncertainty.

In a one-on-one interview with Dr. Konaev, she discussed transparency within the military, the challenges to achieve transparency in a commercial space, and the impact of intelligence sharing. Several prestigious periodicals have included Dr. Konaev’s research on international security, armed conflict, non-state actors, and urban warfare in the Middle East, Russia, and Eurasia. Her focus is U.S. military involvement in the international community and its influence in international security. 

Dr. Konaev has found that the foundation of security is based on a nation’s will to fight and the principle that independent states are built around international integrity. It can be challenging to discuss military uses of autonomy and AI without bringing up the topic of “killer robots,” which presents another obstacle to establishing international cooperation on AI-related concerns. The incorporation of AI into military systems and operations raises significant moral, ethical, and legal issues that demand attention.

There is a range of AI applications that the military can deploy, and most are innocuous. The limitations of emerging technology, constraints of operating within military organizations’ rules of engagement, and discussions concerning AI in safety-critical systems need to be more precisely addressed. There are already systems in place for the production and use of new weapons, and command and control structures. Naturally, there are concerns regarding the assurance and safety of AI. Dr. Konaev urges the U.S. to proceed with extreme caution when it comes to new AI, but she believes that spreading the message that AI can choose and eliminate any target they like without any human control is detrimental.

When asked about constraints in technology regarding Russia and the war in Ukraine, Dr. Konaev noted that the technology-centric analyses of the strategic competition that overlooks Russia lacks a clear understanding that technology does not have to be shiny, exquisite, or expensive to be detrimental to U.S. interests. Russia tests military technology, semi-autonomous, and autonomous systems in Syria less than Ukraine as they are involved in theaters of war.

While answering questions on her career and role at CSET, she acknowledged that CSET has a variety of publications concerning cooperation with U.S. allies in research and development, setting AI standards, collaborating on defense projects, and making sure AI technologies represent common democratic ideals. AI engagement and close cooperation with U.S. partners are strongly encouraged, but Dr. Konaev believes that it is crucial to recognize that every nation has a different set of goals. The discussion of AI is not as heavily policed in Europe as it is in the United States. The use of AI in transport, banking, health care, and medicine are among the areas that are accumulating attention. However, there are limitations on the use of AI because most U.S. allies have a smaller defense budgets than the U.S.

Dr. Konaev explained that as she moved from academia into the think-tank world, she hit a learning curve concerning the best ways to cover policy implications and package policy recommendations. When someone is an expert on a topic and they want to make that knowledge useful, it can be difficult to figure out who to speak to and what to share. Dr. Konaev offered advice to international relations students interested in shaping policy, stating that they aim to learn about domestic issues such as budgets and interest groups, how American institutions work, and how policy is made and implemented.

Image Courtesy of Center for Security and Emerging Technology

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