How China’s Use of Artificial Intelligence for Military Purposes Worries the United States

Murad Jandali | a year ago




The military use of artificial intelligence (A.I.) technologies in China has become a concern everywhere in the United States, from Silicon Valley to the Pentagon, according to U.S. media, as fears grow of an arms race that will exacerbate the conflict between the two countries.

According to the report, “China continues to muster a wide range of advanced capabilities specifically designed to counter the traditional American way of fighting.”

The report revealed Beijing’s 30-year-old efforts to study U.S. combat operations with the aim of being able to penetrate its military power, which is now being done with the help of A.I., considering that one of the most critical factors in the strength of any army is its ability to use A.I. faster than its enemy.

Meanwhile, the United States is running one of the largest known projects in the development of military A.I., although the project is still in its early stages, a secret program of the U.S. Air Force, which aims to move to the next generation of air dominance, and depends on the production of 1,000 drones with special capabilities, called auxiliary combat aircraft, that act as escorts for about 200 combat aircraft piloted by pilots.

In a book published this year, under the title A.I. and the Bomb, the author, James Johnson, from the University of Aberdeen in Britain, imagined an accidental nuclear war in the East China Sea in 2025 that ignites suddenly, based on intelligence supported by A.I. on the American and Chinese sides, pointing out that the driving forces are robots equipped with A.I. technology capable of deep falsification, camouflage, and military deception operations.

It is noteworthy that recent years have witnessed an escalation of tension between Washington and Beijing against the backdrop of the United States accusing China of stealing its intellectual property; added to this is the increasing Chinese military deployment in Asia and Western countries’ accusations against Beijing of human rights violations.


Arms Race

Bloomberg reported on May 19, 2023, that Beijing’s latest efforts raise fears of an A.I. arms race that could eventually exacerbate any conflict between the United States and China.

The agency quoted Ylber Bajraktari, one of the authors of the report, as saying that the aim of issuing it is to inform the U.S. Department of Defense, Congress, and the public of the urgent need to accelerate efforts to develop a U.S. military force supported by A.I.

The agency indicated that one of the people who raised U.S. concerns recently was former CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, when he testified at a U.S. House of Representatives hearing on China, on May 17, 2023, as the head of an initiative aimed at accelerating the adoption of A.I. by the U.S. defense establishment.

Schmidt’s initiative, called the Special Competitive Studies Project (SCSP), stresses in a new report released this month that the United States must rearrange its military to respond to this threat.

In his testimony, Schmidt warned that China is investing far more in defense A.I. than the United States, as well as civil-military integration that has made Chinese commercial companies work more closely with the military.

Schmidt said that although the United States is a few years ahead in key areas such as A.I. and quantum computing, there is every reason to believe that China has more people working on strategic A.I.

According to Bloomberg, US defense experts are concerned about the possibility of crossing red lines, such as launching attacks supported by A.I. against satellites in space and nuclear engineering, as well as the risk of rapid escalation that has not yet been explored by the United States and China given the current climate of hostility between the two countries.

On his part, Gregory Allen, a former director of strategy and policy at the Pentagon’s Joint A.I. Center, whose role included efforts to accelerate the adoption of A.I. by the U.S. military, citing multiple attempts by U.S. defense officials to hold what he described as military A.I. risk reduction dialogues with their Chinese counterparts, saying that none of them had succeeded in reaching out.

On the collapse of military diplomacy between the two countries, Allen added, “China has rejected all overtures to talk about military A.I., which is a tragic situation.”

A spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, Liu Pengyu, did not comment directly on China’s alleged rejection of U.S. bilateral initiatives to discuss military A.I., but he said that Beijing takes very seriously the need to prevent and manage risks and challenges related to A.I., in addition to actively working to strengthen the international governance of this technology.

“In 2021, Beijing submitted a paper to a United Nations forum proposing to regulate military applications of A.I. and encourage their responsible development,” the Chinese spokesperson added, noting that it was ready to intensify exchanges and cooperation with all parties to confront the risks posed by the military applications of this technology.

On its part, the White House is working on a procedure that would require a review of foreign investments in certain industries, especially emerging technologies such as A.I. and quantum computing, while the U.S. Department of Defense requested $1.8 billion for A.I. in the 2024 budget, which is the amount that exceeds the budget needed for this technology in past years.

“This funding is likely to grow over time as we actively integrate this technology into our work,” Kathleen Hicks, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense, said in a statement.

“A.I. is one of the leading technologies of our time, so of course we see China trying to develop and exploit it, but the Department of Defense is keen to make sure that Washington continues to get ahead of it by including A.I. tech in many aspects of its tasks, including battlefield awareness, cyber, reconnaissance, logistics, and force support, the United States will remain committed to its responsible use,” she added.

Republican Representative Mike Gallagher, who chairs the House Select Committee on Chinese Communist Party Affairs, says the United States appears to be converging with China on A.I., which he described as an important tech that could determine geopolitical hegemony in this century, calling to stop the flow of American capital to Chinese A.I. companies.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a think tank focused on national security, announced last March that China was ahead in 37 of 44 important technologies, including A.I.

The institute emphasized that “the United States is advanced in natural language processing, a branch of A.I. that allows computers to understand, create, and process human language.”

It also noted that “China is a pioneer in A.I. and machine learning algorithms, including neural networks and deep learning.”


American Fears

Last April, The Guardian newspaper published an article titled “As A.I. weaponry enters the arms race, America is feeling very, very afraid,” which raised many questions. Although the American fears are not new, their timing recently coincided with the fear of the development witnessed by China in the field of A.I., which took another dimension.

The newspaper pointed out that a report issued in March 2021 by the U.S. National Security Committee on A.I. warned that China may soon replace the United States as the world’s A.I. superpower. In addition, A.I. systems will be used in the pursuit of power, and A.I. will not remain in the realm of superpowers or the realm of science fiction.

The Guardian indicated that the committee urged President Biden to reject calls for a global ban on controversial autonomous weapons powered by A.I., saying that China and Russia are unlikely to abide by any treaty they sign.

The report noted that for the foreign policy establishment in Washington, the prospect of China reaching Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) before the United States seems like an existential threat to American hegemony.

“Homegrown tech giants who dominate technology are fueling these existential fears. And so the world could face a new arms race fueled by the next generations of technology that brought us ChatGPT,” he added.

It is noteworthy that the report of the U.S. National Security Committee on A.I., issued in 2022, had classified China as a strategic competitor to the United States in the field of A.I. and its counterpart in many fields.

The report added that A.I. enhances the threat posed by potential Chinese cyberattacks, pointing out that Beijing plans to use this intelligence to balance U.S. military superiority by implementing a kind of smart war, which relies more on creating alternative logistics, procurement, and training, in addition to war algorithms.

The report talked about networks in the battle to connect systems, while armed drones will be deployed that carry out independent functions.

Soldiers will also be trained in live and virtual environments, incorporating A.I., which will speed up the process of identifying and targeting valuable targets due to improvements in intelligence gathering and transmission.

China’s use of A.I. in its national intelligence services will help its officials identify trends and threats.

The report considered that “China’s domestic use of A.I. sets an appalling precedent for anyone in the world who cherishes individual freedom.”

In the same context, a report prepared by the Pentagon in 2020 stated that Beijing sees tech as a crucial component of its military and industrial power in the future, adding that the next-generation A.I. development plan details China’s strategy to use commercial and military organizations to achieve huge breakthroughs by 2025 and to become a world leader by 2030.

“The Chinese army considers that the implementation of intelligent capabilities will increase the speed of combat in the future, which requires more rapid processing and information integration, to support the leadership’s decision-making fast and effective,” the report added.

The South China Morning Post newspaper reported that Beijing is developing large, intelligent and relatively low-cost unmanned submarines as part of projects that use A.I., which can roam the world’s oceans to perform many missions, from reconnaissance to laying mines and even launching suicide attacks.

It quoted researchers as saying that these automated submarines target U.S. forces in strategic waters, such as the South China Sea and the western Pacific Ocean.