Top General Warns U.S. ‘Can’t Afford to Lose More Ground’ to China on AI

Russian, Chinese and Mongolian troops and military equipment parade at the end of the day of the Vostok-2018 (East-2018) military drills at Tsugol training ground not far from the Chinese and Mongolian border in Siberia, on September 13, 2018.
MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images
EDWIN MORA

WASHINGTON, DC — The United States must accelerate its investments in the vital war-fighting domain of artificial intelligence (AI) to prevent China from further eroding America’s technological edge, the top general in charge of the Pentagon’s AI activities told Breitbart News this week.

Breitbart News briefly spoke to Lt. Gen. John “Jack” N.T. Shanahan, the director of the Pentagon’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC), after he testified about AI efforts within the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) during a hearing held Tuesday by the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities.

Asked whether he is concerned about Russian and Chinese AI capabilities potentially surpassing that of the United States, Shanahan declared, “I’m very proud of some areas where the United States continues to lead globally in AI such as our people, our academic institutions, and our hardware.”

“However, we can’t afford to lose any more ground. The pace has to accelerate so that we don’t lose ground to what China is doing,” he continued. “There’s no doubt in my mind what China is doing in terms of levels of their investments so it’s about making sure that we don’t get behind, and we begin not only to catch up but accelerate our level of investments.”

China’s state-run Global Times cautioned in February that U.S. President Donald Trump’s executive order that month instructing the American government to prioritize the development of artificial intelligence could trigger a “new high-technology Cold War” between Washington and Beijing.

Shanahan testified alongside top Pentagon officials — Dr. Peter Highnam, the deputy director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Michael A. Brown, the director of DOD’s Defense Innovation Unit.

Brown testified that China is using talent and facilities in the United States to advance its AI technology, telling lawmakers:

Chinese firms and the Chinese government are leveraging U.S. talent and ecosystems through the establishment of research institutes in the United States, investment in U.S. AI-related startups and firms, recruitment of U.S.-based talent, and commercial and academic partnerships.

During the hearing, Shanahan noted that China and Russia are intensifying their investments in AI for military purposes to become dominant in the field, a move that the general described as a threat to the United States.

“AI will change the character of warfare,” Shanahan testified, adding:

Other nations, particularly strategic competitors such as China and Russia, are making significant investments in AI for military purposes. These investments threaten to erode our technological and operational advantages and destabilize the free and open international order.

The Department of Defense, together with our allies and partners, must adopt AI to maintain its strategic position, prevail on future battlefields, and safeguard this order.

The general acknowledged that AI has the potential to completely change how the Pentagon operates. Shanahan told lawmakers:

By harnessing the power of AI in defense, we will better support and protect American service members, safeguard our citizens, defend our allies, and improve the effectiveness, affordability, and speed of our operations. …AI will enhance operational effectiveness, improve readiness, and increase efficiency in the general business practices of the Department.

The Pentagon officials identified China and Russia as America’s top AI adversaries. However, Brown noted in his written testimony that Russia “is behind the United States and China in terms of overall AI investment, research, and startups.”

Last year, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) warned American lawmakers that China had developed a plan to “overtake” America’s dominance in militarizing artificial intelligence, robotics, and quantum computing, noting that the communist nation is “rapidly closing the gap” with the United States.

In December 2018, Pentagon officials conceded that the United States is “in danger” of losing its dominance in AI advancements.

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