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Pentagon points to China, Russia, competition in the new AI strategy

connectVideoExperts fear US falls behind China in the race for AI dominance

China steps up plan for the use of artificial intelligence to the strengthening of the military; Bill Hemmer reports.

The President and the Pentagon indicate that the artificial intelligence (AI) is now a major priority for U.S. national security, and the competition of China and Russia is an important motivator.

President Trump has an executive order on Feb. 11 with the title “Maintaining the U.s. Leadership in Artificial Intelligence.” It is a directive that he says, “will affect the missions of almost all executive departments and agencies,” and he did not mince words about the meaning of this quest.

“Continued American leadership in the AI is of the utmost importance for the preservation of the economic and national security of the United States,” the executive order reads.

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A few days later, the Pentagon followed up with his own AI manifest focused on the Use of AI to Advance Our Security and Prosperity.” That strategy document offered an equally urgent evaluation of the state of affairs when it comes to AI, points specifically to the fact that other countries are already heavily invested.

“Other countries, particularly China and Russia, significant investment in AI for military purposes… These investments are likely to affect, our technological and operational advantages and the destabilisation of the free and open international order.”

— The ministry of Defence of Artificial Intelligence Strategy Summary

The DoD strategy states that the progress of the AI technology will be “the character of the future battlefield and the tempo of the threats that we face,” and that “[o]in other countries, particularly China and Russia, significant investment in AI for military purposes.” That investment, they say, “threaten to erode our technological and operational advantages and the destabilisation of the free and open international order.”

Both directives call for more research and development, and the rapid cultivation of AI workers, but at this moment, there are no mentions of a new funding to support these efforts. That will come in the form of YEAR 2020 budget request to both the organization and the executive levels, which of course will be subject to parliamentary approval. And with the DoD, and outside experts recognize that countries like China and Russia have been pouring resources into their own AI systems, there is some disagreement as to whether these new regulations will do no good.

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Brett Velicovich, a special operations veteran, is listed in a recent Fox News op-ed that “[u]nfortunately for America, China’s huge investment in AI is the payment of dividends, which Beijing modernization of the military capabilities at a dangerously high pace.” President Trump of the new directive, he argues, “serves as a direct reaction to China’s initiative,” and proves “America is now taking the vital quest to develop advanced AI capabilities more seriously than ever before.”

Chinese paramilitary policemen stand guard under the portrait of former leader Mao Zedong outside the Tiananmen Gate as the snow falls in Beijing, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019. The Pentagon cited competition from countries like China and Russia in its new strategy document on artificial intelligence. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

For some it is the impact of this new focus is still the question. “The EO is fine as far as it goes in the signalling of the importance of AI research and applications for U.s. interests,” said Benjamin Boudreaux, a former Ministry of cyber policy adviser who now focuses on issues at the intersection of national security and the AI at the RAND Corporation. In an interview with Fox News, Boudreaux said that he reads the statements of the Pentagon and the President with great interest, “without new funding from the underlying order, it is not clear, it itself will make much of a difference.”

This is not to say that the President of the directive does not come without any tangible benefits. Gregory C. Allen, who specializes in AI and diplomatic issues at the Center for a New American Security, tells Fox, “there are important measures take effect immediately, such as directing federal agencies to determine what government data sets can be useful to the American AI-researchers and to begin a process for sharing this data.”

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However, Allen has also been able to peer behind the curtain of the chinese AI efforts, and it seems clear that their approach to AI is already a few steps further.

“China’s diplomats say that China fears an AI arms race even as China’s military and defence companies wish to make use of AI to build a military more advanced than any other in the world.”

— Gregory C. Allen, Center for a New American Security

Allen traveled to China on four different occasions in 2018 to attend a variety of AI conferences for diplomatic, military and private sector types and summed up his experiences in a report earlier this month.

“In my interactions with Chinese government officials, they demonstrated a remarkable insight into the issues around the AI and international security,” Allen said. And in addition to keeping a close watch on AI political discussions as they unfold in the U.S., Allen says that “[i]t is clear that the government of China views AI as a high priority and is deploying the necessary resources to cultivate AI expertise and strategic thinking among the national security of the community.”

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One of the ways China has publicly shown his AI ambitions is by the designation of a few large companies as the country’s “AI Champions.” In a conversation with Allen, a representative of one of those “AI Champions” argued that the support which they from the point of view of the Chinese government came in stark contrast to the competition between state-owned and private companies to develop nuclear and missile technology.

Jack Ma, Alibaba chairman, chats after the start of Alibaba’s 11.11 Global Shopping Festival will be held in Shanghai, China, early Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. What began ten years ago as a day of the online promotion with US$7.8 million in sales is to become the world’s largest e-commerce event, generating US$25.3 billion in 2017. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

All of the opinion that the comparison of AI to nuclear missile and technologies through a “Champion” of the Chinese government is evidence of the critical role of AI for the future of national security.” And that is not the only sign of how seriously this issue is treated in the abroad.

Jack Ma, co-founder and chairman of e-commerce giant Alibaba, warned ominously at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January that every world war is started with a “technological revolution.” Alibaba is among the Chinese government’s official “AI Champions.”

“China’s diplomats say that China fears an AI arms race even as China’s military and defence companies wish to make use of AI to build a military more advanced than any other in the world,” Allen tells Fox.

Boudreaux agree that America “faces a real strategic competition from China and Russia, but… the AI should not be viewed as a zero-sum-technology, but where there are opportunities for mutual reinforcement.”

“Even if you have an AI arms race perspective, it is important that the U.S., together with its allies to ensure AI is used safely and responsibly.”

— Benjamin Boudreaux, RAND Corporation

“Even if you have an AI arms race perspective, it is important that the U.S., together with its allies to ensure AI is used safely and responsibly,” Boudreaux added.

All agree that “China is deeply intertwined in the global economy”, and that our relationship with them is very different than the Cold War dynamic of our nuclear arms race with Russia. That doesn’t change the reality of what he says is unfolding abroad, ” he says.

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“Despite expressing concern about AI arms races,” Allen argues, “most of China’s leadership sees increased military use of AI as inevitable and is aggressively pursuing.”

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