China looks to compete with U.S. on artificial intelligence

Feb. 4, 2017

Deputy defense secretary Robert O. Work expected to find “the smartest guys in AI” within his department, only to be told that those guys are at Facebook and Google, according to John Markoff and Matthew Rosenberg in The New York Times.

“Now, increasingly, they’re also in China,” Markoff and Rosenberg add. “The United States no longer has a strategic monopoly on the technology, which is widely seen as the key factor in the next generation of warfare.”

They note that Microsoft last year touted software that can match humans in understanding speech, only to be taunted by Baidu chief scientist Andrew Ng claiming to have achieved similar capability with the Chinese language two years earlier.

To meet challenges to AI superiority, Markoff and Rosenberg, write, the Pentagon last year announced its “Third Offset” strategy to maintain a military advantage.

Up into the 1980s, the Pentagon “jealously hoarded its leadership with military secrecy and export controls,” they write. Then, consumer electronics began driving technology. “As consumer electronics manufacturing has moved to Asia, both Chinese companies and the nation’s government laboratories are making major investments in artificial intelligence.”

They quote Adam Segal, a specialist in emerging technologies and national security at the Council on Foreign Relations, as saying, “The Chinese leadership is increasingly thinking about how to ensure they are competitive in the next wave of technologies.”

One result? As China Daily reports, “China’s next-generation cruise missiles will be developed based on a modular design, allowing them to be tailor-made for specific combat situations, and will have a high level of artificial intelligence, according to a senior missile designer.”

Development will be based on a “plug-and-play” approach. Artificial intelligence will enable commanders to control the missiles in real time, or they can be operated in “fire-and-forget” mode.

Markoff and Rosenberg in the Times note that there are apparent cozy relationships between the Chinese government and commercial AI researchers. In contrast, they write, “Many Silicon Valley firms remain hesitant to be seen as working too closely with the Pentagon out of fear of losing access to China’s market.”

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