The Quest for AI in Military Affairs – U.S- China at Crossroads

Sachin Tiwari
February 07, 2019
Leadership in AI enabled system is re-defining US-China relations. Pic Credit: James Bareham/The Verge 2017

The pace with which the Artificial Intelligence (AI) strategies have been unveiled by 22 prominent states in the last 15 months, in a way reveals the extent of growing dependence on the automated machines and their expanded roles. Artificial Intelligence refers to the capability of machines to perform human intelligence tasks displayed in the form of ability to think and act independently. The market value of the AIindustry which is presently worth $16 billion is expected to growto$190 billion by 2025. This would make it a prominent field embedded in all existing and upcoming information technologies. Although a general technology, it’s the usage by the states in the military and economic affairsthat has placed it as a strategic asset and a leading venue for competition between major powers- prominently US and China.

In order to make AI enabled system more accurate and efficient, large volumes of data are required which is now possible from the data harnessed by the major tech companies. In this regard,the U.S companies lead data ownership and innovation in information technology.For instance, recently Google DeepMind Alpha Go an AI program defeated the world’s no 1. GO player Kie Jie from China. This advancement of the USAI program event was prominently noticed by the Chinese authoritiesin the implementation of AI strategy.

More than a Problemsolver

The implication of AIhas moved beyond the civilian uses such as medicine, education, andmanufacturing to critical areas such as national security. The induction of the AI in the militaryis already underway with several projects for development of autonomous weapons which includes the unmanned drones and autonomous ground vehicles that has already been used in the warin Iraq and Afghanistan by the U.S. The driving force behind this is the rapid adoption of the automated systems and the fall in the unit prices making it affordable to develop and use AI technology. Countries including France and Israel have opted it for the “operational superiority” which would compensate for the lack of human power. The competition for the information and economic superiority with AI in the militarysphere is the main bone of contention between the USand China.

The 2015 Chinese military strategyrecognizes the changing security landscape and the need for the development ofmilitary technologies such as unmanned weapons. The development of the advanced weaponry for the informationizedadvanced warfare [i.e. a hybrid form of conventional warfare and information] is an urgent need. Also, the combining of the military and the civilian resources have implications on the development of advanced technology. This position has been marked by China’s national AI Strategy in 2017putting the planfor leadership in AI by 2030 with funding of over $150 billion and including efforts for the developmentof autonomous vehicles. The close integration of the civil-militarycooperation is resembled by the growing efforts for an increasein the specialized workforce for AI development which currently is led by the US. In order to boost the AI workforce, China has considerably increased the remittance to the AI employee demonstrated by a 35-50 percent hikeas compared to peers holding same degrees but working in other sectors.

In response, the US hasboosted program for AI with commercial integration, raising funding in the development for the AI. Recognizing China and Russia as the long term competitors, the US National Defense Strategy 2018prioritizes investments in military application of autonomous weapons to gain military advantage. The focus is on the AI ready applications in strategicpartnership with the private sector including leading companies Microsoft and Google. The U.S through Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA), a research agency of the Departmentof Defense has put $2 billion in the AI next campaignfor the developmentof AI application with decision-makingcapabilities. The Department of Defense project Mavenhasbeen used to integrate all military systems with AI. This has earlier been used forcounter operations against ISIS militants using the automatedidentification system. The Trump administration has recognized the AI as a priority for the research and development under budget for 2019 for the future of American military and maintaining the US strategic leadership in global affairs.

Despite, the importance of AI in military systems it has largely been debated under ethical, regulatory, and reliability concerns. There is an increasing demand for stricter norms regarding the useof surveillance and autonomous weapons with the help of AI. However, the transformative aspect of AI in changing warfare landscape is too irresistible,and making the rapid development of AI in military affairs inevitable for the US and China to win the machine race with other countries following the suit.

*** The author is currently a PhD scholar at the Centre for Canadian, US & Latin American Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University ***