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 The development of AI could cause international norms shaping how countries communicate to become outdated, leading to confusion and potential conflict.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.
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.”
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.
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.