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US vows to fight artificial intelligence threats posed by China

Read time 4min 40sec

The US government has vowed to counter artificial intelligence (AI) threats posed by countries such as China.

Yesterday, the country’s National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI), led by former Google chairman Eric Schmidt, recommended instituting measures that will ensure China does not overtake the US in the production of semiconductors that are essential in the development of AI.

It also recommended measures to promote semiconductor manufacturing in the US after decades of industry migration to Taiwan and Korea.

The NSCAI final report presents an integrated national strategy to reorganise the government, reorient the nation, and rally the country’s closest allies and partners to defend and compete in the coming era of AI-accelerated competition and conflict.

The report comes as the US government, under president Joe Biden, has taken over from former president Donald Trump, who placed sanctions on several Chinese technology firms after accusing them of posing a national security threat because of their alleged close ties with the Chinese government. The Chinese companies include tech giants such as Huawei, ZTE and TikTok.

The firms have repeatedly denied these allegations.

Formidable competitor

China is a competitor possessing the might, talent and ambition to challenge America’s technological leadership, military superiority and its broader position in the world, the commission notes.

It adds that AI is deepening the threat posed by cyber attacks and disinformation campaigns that Russia, China, and other state and non-state actors are using “to infiltrate our society, steal our data and interfere in our democracy”.

It believes the limited use of AI-enabled attacks to date is the tip of the iceberg.

“We know China is determined to surpass us in AI leadership. We know advances in AI build on themselves and confer significant first-mover advantages. Now we must act,” the commission says.

“The principles we establish, the federal investments we make, the national security applications we field, the organisations we redesign, the partnerships we forge, the coalitions we build, and the talent we cultivate will set America’s strategic course. The United States should invest what it takes to maintain its innovation leadership, to responsibly use AI to defend free people and free societies, and to advance the frontiers of science for the benefit of all humanity. AI is going to reorganise the world. America must lead the charge,” it adds.

According to the commission, AI-enhanced capabilities will be the tools of first resort in a new era of conflict as strategic competitors develop AI concepts and technologies for military and other malign uses, as well as cheap and commercially available AI applications, ranging from “deepfakes” to lethal drones, which will become available to rogue states, terrorists and criminals.

It notes the US must prepare to defend against these threats by quickly and responsibly adopting AI for national security and defence purposes.

“Defending against AI-capable adversaries operating at machine speeds without employing AI is an invitation to disaster. Human operators will not be able to keep up with or defend against AI-enabled cyber or disinformation attacks, drone swarms, or missile attacks without the assistance of AI-enabled machines.”

The commission recommends that national security professionals must have access to the world’s best technology to protect themselves, perform their missions and defend the US.

It points out the race to research, develop and deploy AI and associated technologies is intensifying the technology competition that underpins a wider strategic competition.

“China is organised, resourced and determined to win this contest. The United States retains advantages in critical areas, but current trends are concerning. While a competitive response is complicated by deep academic and commercial interconnections, the United States must do what it takes to retain its innovation leadership and position in the world. The US government must embrace the AI competition and organise to win it by orchestrating and aligning US strengths.”

The US National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence is led by former Google chairman Eric Schmidt.
The US National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence is led by former Google chairman Eric Schmidt.

Chilling precedent

The commission stresses the US must win the AI competition that is intensifying strategic competition with China.

“China’s plans, resources and progress should concern all Americans. It is an AI peer in many areas and an AI leader in some applications. We take seriously China’s ambition to surpass the United States as the world’s AI leader within a decade.”

The commission points out that AI competition is also a values competition. “China’s domestic use of AI is a chilling precedent for anyone around the world who cherishes individual liberty. Its employment of AI as a tool of repression and surveillance – at home and, increasingly, abroad – is a powerful counterpoint to how we believe AI should be used.

“The AI future can be democratic, but we have learned enough about the power of technology to strengthen authoritarianism abroad and fuel extremism at home to know that we must not take for granted that future technology trends will reinforce rather than erode democracy.

“We must work with fellow democracies and the private sector to build privacy-protecting standards into AI technologies and advance democratic norms to guide AI uses so that democracies can responsibly use AI tools for national security purposes.”

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