AI Task Force Rhetoric Encourages Cold War With China Over National Security

ai task force china

There are many reasons to fear AI on the battlefield, but the interests of the newly-formed AI Task Force seem to be more about fear-mongering and beating China than they are about national security.

Washington think tank, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), launched a bipartisan Task Force on Artificial Intelligence and National Security last week.

The CNAS Task Force on Artificial Intelligence and National Security brings together national security leaders and AI experts to tackle the challenges posed by the AI revolution, which mostly seem to come from its perceived “threat” of China’s advancements in AI.

Composed of former senior government officials, private industry leaders, and academic experts, the AI Task Force examines how the United States should respond to the national security challenges posed by artificial intelligence, at least on the surface.

AI does have the potential to reinvent warfare, but the newly-formed AI Task Force seems to be focused more on a type of Cold War-era space race than it does on actual national security. This time, the US wants to beat the Chinese, and not the Russians, when it comes to AI.

Why the AI Task Force was ‘officially’ formed

“We find ourselves on the leading edge of new industrial and military revolutions, powered by AI; machine learning; and autonomous, unmanned systems and robots,” said former Deputy Secretary of Defense and current AI Taskforce co-chairman Robert O. Work.

“The United States must consider and prepare for the associated national security challenges – whether in cybersecurity, surveillance, disinformation, or defense. CNAS’ AI Task Force will help frame the policy issues surrounding these unique challenges,” added Work.

This is basically the official reason for forming the AI Task Force, however, according to CNAS Task Force on Artificial Intelligence and National Security Director Paul Scharre, Chinese competition is a driving force in motivating the AI race.

“In July 2017, China released its own national-level AI development plan. In September, Russian President Vladimir Putin observed, “whoever becomes the leader in this sphere [artificial intelligence] will become the ruler of the world,” wrote Scharre.

It is with this sense of urgency to compete with other nations in the space of AI warfare that the AI Task Force was assembled.

Is China really a national security threat or a catalyst for innovation?

Are the Chinese really a military threat to the national security of the United States or is this just paranoia? If America is the military superpower it claims to be, is it really looking out for the safety of the American people, or is the military industrial complex using China as a catalyst to inspire innovation under the guise of “national defense?”

Scharre warned that “although technological advantage has been a key pillar of U.S. military power and national competitiveness, China is starting to catch up in its quest to become a ‘science and technology superpower.’ While the U.S. military possessed an early edge in technologies critical to information-age warfare, primacy in artificial intelligence (AI), likely integral in future warfare, could remain contested between the United States and China.”

Notice that Scharre uses words like “national competiveness” and “technological superpower.” It’s the same type of rhetoric used between the US and the Soviets during the space race. Is the whole AI Taskforce aimed just at “beating the Reds?”

Scharre interviewed Google’s Eric Schmidt last November for the keynote address at the CNAS Artificial Intelligence and Global Security Summit. Schmidt is not a part of the newly-formed AI Task Force.

Google has long been entrenched in US military, intelligence, and government programs, and as chair of the Defense Innovation Advisory Board, Schmidt is highly influential when it comes to AI technology for national security.

In fact Google Maps has its origins in the military, having first been developed during the Iraq War.

Read More: CIA-backed, NSA-approved Pokemon GO users give away all privacy rights

Eric Schmidt echoed a similar to view Scharre about the Chinese.

“China actually announced its AI strategy, and I actually read it. And it’s pretty simple. By 2020 they will have caught up. By 2025 they will be better than us, and by 2030 they will dominate the industries of AI,” said Schmidt.

“Just stop for a second. That’s, the [Chinese] government said that. Weren’t we the ones in charge of AI dominance here in our country? Weren’t we the ones who invented this stuff? Weren’t we the ones that were going to exploit the benefits of all this technology for betterment and American Exceptionalism in our own arrogant view? Trust me, these Chinese people are good,” he added.

Schmidt, if anything, is not concerned so much with China being a military threat, inasmuch as he’s mad that the US could come in second place.

After seeing the Chinese playing Alpha Go, Schmidt’s mind immediately and speculatively assumed they would use their minds and their tech for warfare.

“And my conclusion was they are going to use this technology. They’re going to use it for both commercial as well as military objectives – with all sorts of implications over that period. But, we know what they are doing: they have announced their strategy! You’re crazy to treat them as somehow second class citizens,” said Schmidt.

So, one game of Alpha Go led one of the most powerful men in the world to conclude that China was going to use AI for warfare, but he never did say against whom.

Battlefield Singularity vs a New AI Cold War

The CNAS Artificial Intelligence and Global Security Initiative covers a range of issues related to the implications of the AI revolution for global security, including:

  • Shifting power dynamics among actors in the international arena
  • Changes in the character of conflict
  • Crisis stability, including conflict initiation, escalation, and arms races
  • Security dimensions of AI safety
  • Prospects for international cooperation

Most of these issues are more concerned with foreign relations than with the technology itself.

Although Eric Schmidt is not on the new AI Task Force, he is one of the most powerful men on earth, and he shares the same views on AI and China as Scharre.

But to Schmidt, it doesn’t even matter whether or not there is a military threat to the United States. What is most important to Schmidt is that the US is number one, no matter what the cost.

To back up this point, Schmidt made an analogy about the US and the Soviets during the Cold War. The Soviets launched Sputnik, which led the US to launch NASA and the Highway System, which subsequently allowed the US to move more missiles around.

The competiveness gave America the advantage in the international space race, but at the same time, America benefitted domestically from the highways.

“So whether it’s from a position of fear, where people are afraid of something, or whether it’s a position of leadership, I don’t care how we get there,” said Schmidt.

“So the specifics are straightforward – investing in research. America is the country that leads in these areas. There’s every reason to think we can continue that leadership. It’s also how we will differentiate our businesses globally.”

In Schmidt’s own words, it’s more about global business than national security.

Bringing military technology to the 21st century

According to Schmidt, the problem with the military when it comes to technology is, “The military as a general statement doesn’t build things. It uses contractors. So the problem is that the contractors build what the military asks for because they are contractors and the military has not been asking for AI systems. And it takes 5-10-20-30 years to go from the spec to the delivery.”

This cumbersome and slow process by the military is one of the key reasons the AI Task Force was assembled, among other factors such as foreign competition, and policymaking.

Schmidt went on to say that “the core problem is how do you get the leaders, who want passionately this stuff done to be able to deliver these solutions quickly. My own view is that they have to write AI and machine learning more technically correctly in every procurement. The military contractor base is largely good at hardware not very good at software. I don’t need to tell you that. You use it every day. The software systems aren’t interconnected. They don’t use cloud computing. There’s a long list and these are covered by our recommendations.”

The Pentagon is now looking to commercial companies to bring its cloud computing capabilities into the 21st century.

Read More: Pentagon tech is grossly flawed, AWS frontrunner in JEDI cloud procurement

In a nutshell the Pentagon is using an obsolete and cluttered framework that is slow and tedious. It looks to commercial providers to bring it back up to speed in order to carry out its work to the fullest potential.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the most likely frontrunner to receive the Pentagon’s cloud procurement dubbed the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) cloud.

According to a report in Nextgov, “AWS, which won the CIA’s 10-year, single-award cloud procurement four years ago, is considered to be a frontrunner for the JEDI cloud award.”

AI as both the problem and the solution

Artificial Intelligence on the battlefield is so disruptive to the traditional paradigm of warfare that every strategy in the art of war throughout centuries will prove to be obsolete in the face of autonomous weapons that are pre-emptive and leave no room for diplomacy nor prevention.

If AI provides the problem, then AI will be solution, according to the newly-created think tank task force.

The CNAS Artificial Intelligence and Global Security Initiative will now explore how the artificial intelligence (AI) revolution could lead to changes in global power, the character of conflict, and crisis stability.

Scharre again uses China as an example as to why the AI Task Force is necessary.

The Chinese Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA) “anticipates that the advent of AI could fundamentally change the character of warfare, resulting in a transformation from today’s ‘informatized’ ways of warfare to future ‘intelligentized’ warfare, in which AI will be critical to military power.”

“The PLA will likely leverage AI to enhance its future capabilities, including in intelligent and autonomous unmanned systems; AI-enabled data fusion, information processing, and intelligence analysis; war-gaming, simulation, and training; defense, offense, and command in information warfare; and intelligent support to command decision-making.”

If China wants to use AI for its military, does that make it a threat to the US? Likewise, the US is already developing AI for its own military, does that make it a threat to China?

Do either have the moral high ground?

AI as a paradigm shift in warfare

AI will have a profound impact on the future of warfare, international security, and stability, according to a World Economic Forum Global Risk report.

Read More: ‘AI will represent a paradigm shift in warfare’: WEF predicts an Ender’s Game-like future

The weaponization of AI will represent a paradigm shift in the way wars are fought. Since the end of the Second World War, defense systems have been prioritized to deter attacks rather than actually responding to them after the fact. This has been the model for stability for the past 72 years, but that paradigm is now shifting with the rise of AI and machine learning.

That long-held stability will see a shift towards Automatic Weapons Systems and their attacks “will be based on swarming, in which an adversary’s defense system is overwhelmed with a concentrated barrage of coordinated simultaneous attacks.”

Elon Musk, Steve Wozniak, and the late Stephen Hawking endorsed an open letter describing how to assuage the threat – how to avoid the pitfalls of an armed Artificial Intelligence defense system.

These prominent experts raised concerns that, “if any major military power pushes ahead with AI weapon development, a global arms race is virtually inevitable, and the endpoint of this technological trajectory is obvious: autonomous weapons will become the Kalashnikovs of tomorrow.”

Read More: The AI revolution in defense technology is happening faster than we think

The implications of this should please those looking to oppress: “Autonomous weapons are ideal for tasks such as assassinations, destabilizing nations, subduing populations and selectively killing a particular ethnic group,” the open letter continues.

In conclusion, the writers of the open letter decided, “that AI has great potential to benefit humanity in many ways, and that the goal of the field should be to do so. Starting a military AI arms race is a bad idea, and should be prevented by a ban on offensive autonomous weapons beyond meaningful human control.”

Will the newly-formed AI Task Force adhere to this wisdom, or will it stop at nothing if only to maintain its dominance over Red China?

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Tim Hinchliffe
Tim Hinchliffe is the editor of The Sociable. His passions include writing about how technology impacts society and the parallels between Artificial Intelligence and Mythology. Previously, he was a reporter for the Ghanaian Chronicle in West Africa and an editor at Colombia Reports in South America.