After an official welcome by GLOBSEC’s President Robert Vass, the NATO 2030: NATO-Private Sector Dialogue was opened by a keynote speech by NATO’s Deputy Secretary-General Ambassador Mircea Geoană. He stressed how technology has always been key to deterrence and defence and how it has to be prioritised even more now by NATO and its allies in order to maintain our edge. In Geoană’s words, NATO wants to seize the opportunities that technology offers and find solutions for our most pressing challenges. In order to ensure that new technologies work for us and not against us, cooperation with the private sector and academia are more crucial now than ever. The public sector needs to be more “tech-ready” and the tech sector needs to be more “security ready.” Dialogues such as this one are, as NATO’s Deputy Secretary-General stressed, about exploring the role that the private sector can play in making our strong Alliance even stronger.

Here are short summaries from the individual panel sessions, presentations and conversations from the event:

Showcase Presentation on AI in Warfare with Dr Herbert Lin
Errors in AI are very difficult to understand and improve, and Machine Learning systems can only be as good as their hypothetical data. Challenges for implementing AI/ML in combat include its ability be tricked, hacked, or “fuzzed,” and AI/ML also poses risks when it comes to applying the Laws of Armed Conflict. Excessive trust in AI is extremely dangerous, especially in a military setting, which is why the technology should be implemented incrementally and carefully. Militaries should focus on “explainability” and remember that AI/ML is a “statistical rather than smart” technology.

Panel One: The Future of AI: Bridging the Knowledge and Capability Gap
Harnessing the power of knowledge from member states and partners is essential for NATO to become a trusted partner on AI. NATO needs to modernise its ‘on-ramping’ and procurement of new technologies from start-ups and increase its involvement with SMEs. This will help to bridge the existing acquisition gap, and to maintain technological investments beyond the initial testing period. Increased collaboration is needed to address hybrid threats & emerging technologies, including formulating legal frameworks to deal with these threats. The EU and NATO are not fully up-to-speed on this issue and need to restructure and coordinate their responses.

There is an ongoing ‘technological war’ occurring that will determine the future of AI. NATO and national governments with similar values need to ensure that their standards become the global standards of AI. Finding ways to achieve military effectiveness while not compromising our morals is essential. Although it is impossible to stop countries with different values from using AI as they wish, NATO and its partners can control their own use and develop high standards. In this sense, the geopolitics of AI provide NATO, EU, and partners with an opportunity to unite on maintaining high standards and ethical practices for the use of AI. Fundamentally, NATO, the U.S., and the EU need to be players in AI to protect themselves from AI.

Panel Two: The Private Sector, Big and Small
Technology is important for all industries, and even non-tech focused companies are becoming much more focused on emerging tech. But, within the private sector, different industries prioritise different threats. Additionally, deteriorating relations between great powers also affect the private sector. The biggest challenges we face today require deep cooperation, and the resurgence of great power competition further complicates issues that are already difficult to agree on, such as the adoption of new technology. Trust amongst nations is key for encouraging the maintenance of a regulatory framework that is both stable and ethical.

The key challenge for NATO is to stay relevant and to maintain its edge, and this requires maintaining resilience. NATO is committed to adjusting “the way it does business,” and the Alliance wants to maintain a dialogue with industry, including with non-traditional providers, at every stage of the acquisition process. NATO is already investing in technological development even before the procurement stage, which is a big challenge for the organization, but these developments show that NATO is committed to becoming even more adaptable and efficient. A remaining challenge is the time it takes to adopt new ideas and technologies since the pace of innovation is accelerating every day. From the private sector standpoint, public buy-in also needs to be prioritised because many in the private sector are not familiar with or don’t feel connected to some of NATO’s initiatives. NATO also has a unique role to play when it comes to demanding that companies and providers are providing products that are truly delivering the best that technology has to offer.

Showcase Presentation on AI and Big Data with Dr Ana Isabel Barros
The NATO Science and Technology Organization (STO), the largest defence, science, and technology collaborative network, brings together actors from academia, industry, and the military, all of whom have different perspectives when it comes to addressing challenges posed by new and emerging technology. The STO’s work illustrates the importance of continued collaboration in this field and the private sector can learn from this approach. The STO focuses on how to ensure that NATO has AI and Big Data supremacy for decision support by exploiting data and technology to its full potential across the Alliance to enhance effectiveness. The fact that the private sector is heavily involved in AI, Big Data, hypersonics, and other technologies, only highlights how important interaction between the private sector and public sector is and will continue to be. Since no single nation is capable of bringing together such diverse expertise on its own, NATO has a key advantage here in the field of science and technology.

Conversation with General John R. Allen & Ambassador Baiba Braže: Preparing for Still-Emerging Technologies
The speed at which technology is changing is daunting, and NATO needs an architecture that acknowledges this reality. New technologies are coming no matter what, should be embraced, and will fundamentally influence the future of warfare. NATO also needs to ensure that the human part of its warfare preparation is being developed, and innovation strategy needs to be accompanied by a strategy for integration 

Interaction with academia and the private sector is essential to success, especially because much of the innovation we see today is coming from these sectors. In a hyper war environment, public-private partnerships are essential. We cannot afford to have a strategic distance between the public and private sector, especially because states like Russia and China do not have this strategic distance. We need to bridge this gap in the earlier stages of policy development. Threats from Russia and China also underline the importance of our values. If we give up our values system, then our position is permanently damaged. How we will maintain our values while we develop new technologies is a critical question to consider.

Panel Three: Innovation Ecosystems and Venture Capital’s Role in Allied Defence and Security
The majority of venture capital worldwide originates in NATO member states, but the long-standing culture gap between governments and the private sector prevents these resources from being fully utilized. The public sector seeks to minimise risk while start-ups monetize risk, and the private sector moves forward more quickly with innovative ideas. If NATO wants to fully harness innovation, it needs to address the delay between initial funding and implementation; it is not enough to find novel innovations. The public sector has the ability to serve as patient capital for start-ups whose risks are difficult to measure since government investment promotes confidence among private investors. However, governments can learn from venture capital in particular, including from innovative purchasing strategies like the “use fast, fail safely” model, which the US and France have already begun to implement.  

It is also essential to protect innovation. Russia and China are investing in start-ups at very early stages, so NATO and its partners need to invest even earlier. Safe funding mechanisms are also essential for protecting start-ups and ensuring that capital supply chains are free from foreign influence.

Follow this page and our social media channels for more detailed summaries of the sessions from this #NATO2030 event which will be published in the upcoming days.