The Pentagon’s self-described sprint to put together a more effective plan to confront and counter a rising China may be over, but the race to stay ahead of Beijing’s aggressive advancements in artificial intelligence is far from done.
That initial sprint culminated in June, months after the U.S. Defense Department’s China Task Force recommended a series of internal, structural changes to ensure potential Chinese military threats did not escape notice or go unanswered.
Other major initiatives remained classified, though U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is making clear that maintaining U.S. dominance in artificial intelligence, or AI, will be key.
"In the AI realm as in many others, we understand that China is our pacing challenge," Austin told a conference in Washington on Tuesday.
"Beijing already talks about using AI for a range of missions, from surveillance to cyberattacks to autonomous weapons," he said. "China’s leaders have made clear they intend to be globally dominant in AI by the year 2030."
AI as important as weaponry
For years, U.S. officials have warned that AI, a term used to describe the thinking and intelligent behavior demonstrated by computers, could become as important on the battlefield as any high-tech weaponry.
And recent intelligence assessments have sounded alarms that, increasingly, the U.S. is confronting "a more level playing field," with China doing the most to close the gap.
When it comes to AI, in particular, Austin warned that the U.S. cannot afford to lose more ground.
"It’s a capability that this department urgently needs to develop even further," he said. "AI is central to our innovation agenda, helping us to compute faster, share better and leverage other platforms. ... That’s fundamental to the fights of the future."
Yet while maintaining the United States’ technological edge is critical, Austin said, the way the military, and the country, maintains superiority as it confronts China will be equally important.
"Our use of AI must reinforce our democratic values, protect our rights, ensure our safety and defend our privacy," he said.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivers remarks at the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence Global Emerging Technology Summit in Washington, July 13, 2021.
Speaking at the same summit, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed that sentiment.
"It’s not enough to highlight the horrors of techno-authoritarianism, to point to what countries like China and Russia are doing, and say that it’s wrong and dangerous, even as it is," he said.
"We’ve also got to make the positive case for our own approach, and then we’ve got to deliver," Blinken added. "Nothing is more consequential to our competitiveness, to our security, and ultimately, to our democracy."