Could China leave the US behind in AI ‘arms race’?

It’s an arms race for the post-modern age.

China has been developing Artificial Intelligence weaponry at a much higher rate than the U.S. and experts say it’s something that neither Silicon Valley nor The Pentagon should be turning their backs on.

Reports suggest that the tech and governmental sectors of China have been working together in a “military-civil fusion” and according to a recent Financial Times report, the partnership has become a nightmare for western governments like the U.S., which has mostly taken the opposite approach.

“China has fewer barriers to adopting AI in the military because there is not as large of a social stigma attached to their usage like there is in the United States,” Matthew Bey, a Senior Global Analyst at intelligence firm Stratfor told Fox News. “While we focus on AI the difference in this view is far beyond just AI but rather tech in general. Americans, on average, are far more skeptical about the benefits of technology.”

Bey also points out that China’s rise over the last few decades has been synonymous with the adoption of new technologies, which its citizens have been quick to adopt.

“The cultural difference makes it far more likely for China to quickly adopt AI for any application, including military applications,” he said.

The Pentagon works with U.S. tech companies, although these efforts have sometimes proved controversial.

Last year Google opted not to renew its contract with the Department of Defense for Project Maven, a controversial Pentagon Drone AI imaging program that sparked a backlash from many Google employees.

Thousands of employees signed a petition opposing Google’s involvement in Project Maven. Dozens also reportedly resigned in protest.

Bey adds that while the U.S. government, like its Chinese counterpart, relies heavily on its national tech sector, there is less of a stigma about controversial projects in China.

“China has fewer barriers to adopting AI in the military because there is not as large as a social stigma attached to their usage like there is in the United States,” he said. “While we focus on AI the difference in this view is far beyond just AI but rather tech in general. Americans, on average, are far more skeptical about the benefits of technology.”

“[T]here are collaborative efforts in the works between the United States tech sector and the Pentagon even if some projects, like Project Maven, have seen backlash and ended. The primary reasons have been fears over using AI and robotics for military applications and the fact that many in Silicon Valley oppose such efforts.”

Skepticism is believed to run high in the offices and shared workspaces of Silicon Valley, where many see companies like Google, Apple, and others as global entities and not beholden to any particular government.

Washington appears desperate to make a partnership with Big Tech work, as it is seen as vital to national security. According to a recent Washington Post column, The government is making efforts to win the trust of software engineers who may be wary of it with the AI Principles Project that was launched last October by the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Board. Also in October, defense officials met with nearly a dozen AI experts at Harvard where they debated concerns about privacy and human accountability for AI actions.

“If we’re going to be the arsenal of democracy in the 21st century, we have to show that we have ideals and are ready to stand up for them,” a Pentagon official involved in the program told Post columnist David Ignatius. “It wasn’t going to be enough to say, ‘Hey, we’re the good guys, we’re Americans.’ We needed to be more introspective.”

Another concern in Washington is China’s ability to use AI technology developed in the West. The U.S. has also looked at ways to screen Chinese students and scientists who come stateside to study and do research.

Above all, the U.S. does not want to find itself behind China and its development of AI for military use.

“The challenge here is that because much AI advancement is dual use, Washington risks undermining U.S. commercial competitiveness in the AI sector by trying to develop a strategy to limit China’s military adoption of AI,” Bey says. “The best solution to the problem may be in fact arms control negotiations and/or trying to out-invest the other – both of which have their own pitfalls as well.”

The Stratfor analyst adds that despite China’s advancements, there may not be any need for concern.

“[W]e cannot totally isolate China’s AI advances – especially if they are more advanced than the United States – from the rest of [our country’s] qualitative advantages,” he says. “China’s military development in many of these areas remains behind the United States and AI alone will not make up the gap entirely.”

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