A recent report submitted to Congress by the Pentagon underscores the intensive efforts by China to excel in artificial intelligence (AI), highlighting its strategy to employ AI in uncovering adversary weaknesses and promoting the notion of warfare enhanced by intelligent systems.
The report positions China as a formidable force in the global AI scene, with ambitions to surpass Western advancements in AI research and development by 2025, and ultimately lead the world in this domain by 2030. This ambition is reflected in China’s national strategy, where AI development is prioritized and seen as pivotal to the evolution of what China perceives as the future of combat — warfare driven by AI and autonomous systems.
This concern isn’t new within the U.S. intelligence community. For instance, Lakshmi Raman, who oversees AI at the CIA, expressed at a summit the agency’s growing apprehensions regarding China’s progression in AI, emphasizing the diverse ways in which they are expanding.
Moreover, the Department of Homeland Security has identified the increasing availability of AI technology as a significant boost to the capabilities of potential adversaries. The department points out that AI is being utilized by nation-states to craft more sophisticated misinformation campaigns aimed at eroding public trust in democratic institutions and processes. Additionally, malign cyber entities are leveraging AI to engineer more invasive and wide-reaching cyberattacks.
The Pentagon’s report delves deeper, revealing that China has already set up research hubs and acquired AI and robotics technologies commercially, enabling the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) immediate access to pioneering AI solutions. It acknowledges China’s leadership in specific AI fields like facial recognition and natural language processing, with its firms actively distributing AI chips of domestic design.
However, the report notes China’s ongoing dependence on certain overseas technologies for AI hardware production, including state-of-the-art semiconductor manufacturing plants and electronic design software. Despite this, Chinese experts are investigating alternative materials and innovative designs for future semiconductors.
In a significant development in 2021, the PLA unveiled a strategy known as “Multi-Domain Precision Warfare.” This approach aims to integrate advancements in data processing and AI to pinpoint critical frailties in the U.S. military’s operational framework, followed by coordinated, precise assaults on these weaknesses across various battlefields.
In response, the U.S. is already initiating measures to diminish China’s advantage in this sector, one of which includes tightening chip export rules to limit the dispatch of high-end AI chips to China.