Top leadership of the Senate Intelligence Committee said on Thursday that Congress has been making a “serious effort” to address emerging technologies – like artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing – but “whether it is enough is something that we really need to ask ourselves.”

Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., chair of the committee, and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., the panel’s ranking member, shared their concerns at AFCEA and INSA’s Intelligence and National Security Summit event that China will pull ahead of the United States in the emerging tech race if Congress does not do more to invest in national security – including through emerging tools like AI.

“I don’t know if we’re investing enough in those capabilities” like quantum and AI, Sen. Rubio said. “There’s an effort to address this, there’s an understanding … Whether it is enough is something that we really need to ask ourselves as we move forward.”

Sen. Warner said that China’s efforts to ramp up its technology investments “is one of the single biggest challenges we have. Because my fear is that long before there would be a shooting war with China there could be, in this technology competition, an ability for an adversary like that.”

“But I really do think this is an area where they will use tools – any tool they can,” Sen. Warner said, citing the recent Microsoft incident where a China-based threat actor exposed email account information of U.S. government agencies.

Sen. Warner said that the Defense Department is still doing a “crummy job” of elevating new innovations in technology to become programs of record that receive sufficient funding.

While he admitted that the U.S. can’t “do everything in every domain on a totally unlimited basis,” it’s time for national security to become a domain that the country puts all of its resources into – including emerging technologies.

“In 2023 national security is not simply the nation with the most tanks, guns, ships, and planes,” Sen. Warner said. “This is a technology competition. And if we don’t invest for semiconductors to overhead capabilities, to AI, quantum, and human analysts, synthetic biology, advanced energy – those are domains where if China dominates, that will pose as much of a national security threat both in terms of their ability to spread their influence, or frankly, to take us offline.”

“Figuring out what all ought to be in the national security umbrella ought to be our first step,” he continued. “I would hate to ramp up traditional capabilities alone without thinking about the competition in these technology domains.”

Sen. Warner concluded, “Our secret sauce has always been innovation, and I don’t think we’re going to lose that. I do think we need to think about innovation, not just in terms of economic growth and consumer products, but in the national security context.”

Sen. Rubio agreed, noting that the U.S. is entering an era that is challenging and will require rethinking on how the national makes foreign and domestic policy – including where intelligence falls into that.

“How we apply intelligence, how we define intelligence, and what we prioritize it … There’s a lot of work to be done,” Sen. Rubio said.

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.