China Worries AI Development Could Lead to War Between Nations – Report

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Experts and politicians in China are worried that attempts to integrate artificial intelligence into weapons and military equipment could accidentally lead to war between nations, a new report published by US national security think tank Center for a New American Security (CNAS) suggested.

According to the report, Chinese officials see AI as a threat to global peace as it has been implemented in the use of military and communication services. The development of AI could cause international norms shaping how countries communicate to become outdated, leading to confusion and potential conflict.

“The specific scenario described to me [by one anonymous Chinese official] is unintentional escalation related to the use of a drone,” Gregory C. Allen, an adjunct senior fellow at CNAS and author of the new report, tells The Verge.

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Allen said that China is particularly concerned about US drones which have become smaller and automated, capable of basic autopilot, performing simple tasks like flying in a circle around a target. China is being “more aggressive about introducing greater levels of autonomy closer to lethal use of force,” Allen said. One example is the Blowfish A2 drone, which China exports internationally and which, says Allen, is advertised as being capable of “full autonomy all the way up to targeted strikes.”

Yet because drones are controlled remotely, militaries tend to be more cavalier about their use in contested airspace. And such an attitude might lead to a conflict of interpretations as to a drone’s intentions.

“The point made to me was that it’s not clear how either side will interpret certain behaviours [involving autonomous equipment],” said Allen. “The side sending out an autonomous drone will think it’s not a big deal because there’s no casualty risk, while the other side could shoot it down for the same reason. But there’s no agreed framework on what message is being sent by either sides’ behaviour.”

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He also outlined that countries have yet to define “the norms of armed conflict” for autonomous systems and this uncertainty can become a “real and legitimate threat.”

Another part of the CNAS report, titled “Understanding China’s AI Strategy: Clues to Chinese Strategic Thinking on Artificial Intelligence and National Security,” notes a number of other high-level concerns and attitudes in China’s government-led AI strategy. It states that Beijing recognizes that the only two viable AI superpowers are the US and China, and each nation has its own strengths and weaknesses. China has access to more data, for example, and has the potential to leapfrog Western technology, while the US has a significant lead in the development of chip technology — a vital component of the huge datasets needed to power AI applications.

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CNAS’s report notes that China is particularly keen to close this technological gap, with firms like Baidu, Alibaba, and Huawei establishing new projects to develop AI accelerator hardware. China wants to finance these initiatives while also exploring other ways to obtain foreign expertise – including the recent proposed acquisition of US chip designer Qualcomm by Singapore firm Broadcom, which was blocked by President Trump on national security grounds.

Allen also outlined that there is still a possibility of increasing international cooperation between the US and China in the sphere of modern warfare. US  officials tend to be less well-briefed about their Chinese counterparts, partly because many Chinese policy documents are never translated into English, he said.

“There are definitely pockets of real expertise on this issue [in the US] but there’s not the widespread comprehension there needs to be,” he added.

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