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The Case For Building Expertise To Work On U.S. AI Policy

Because the government is expected to play a large role in the advancement of AI, it is important to have experts on hand to create effective policies.

Researchers at DeepMind and OpenAI are already studying the AI policy challenge, and conversations on how to make progress on these issues are happening via industry groups such as Partnership on AI where Terah Lyonsworks.

With AI, the combination of uncertainty and the potentially rapid rate of technological advancement mean that long-term effects might be decision-relevant soon.

Understanding China's AI Strategy

In a keynote speech during China’s largest international relations conference on July 15, 2018, Fu Ying,12 the Vice-Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National People’s Congress, said that Chinese technologists and policymakers agree regarding the “threat of the new [AI] technology to mankind.” She further stated that “We believe that we should cooperate to preemptively prevent the threat of AI.” Madam Fu’s depiction of AI as posing a shared threat to international security was echoed by many other Chinese diplomats and PLA think tank scholars in my private meetings with them.

However, he also said that AI-related arms control would be uniquely difficult since “AI is low-cost and can be disseminated easily and cannot be monitored easily.” Notably, the recent “Artificial Intelligence Security White Paper,” published in September 2018 by the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology (CAICT), an influential Chinese government think tank, calls upon the Chinese government to “avoid Artificial Intelligence arms races among countries.”13 The AIDP does not address arms races but does state that China will “deepen international cooperation on AI laws and regulations, international rules and so on, and jointly cope with global challenges.” Such concerns extend to the China’s private sector.

Use of the term “intelligentized” is meant to signify a new stage of military technology beyond the current stage based on information technology.15 China’s AIDP strategy document states that China will “Promote all kinds of AI technology to become quickly embedded in the field of national defense innovation.” The next day at the Xiangshan Forum, Zeng Yi, a senior executive at China’s third largest defense company,16 gave a speech in which he described his company’s (and China’s) expectations for the future implementation of AI weapons: “In future battlegrounds, there will be no people fighting.” Zeng predicted that by 2025 lethal autonomous weapons would be commonplace and said that his company believes ever-increasing military use of AI is “inevitable […] We are sure about the direction and that this is the future.” Zeng’s comments are consistent with ongoing Chinese autonomous military vehicle development programs and China’s current approach to exports of military unmanned systems.

Ziyan, a Chinese military drone manufacturer, has sold its Blowfish A2 model to the UAE and in November 2019 reportedly was in negotiations with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan for Blowfish A2 sales.18 Ziyan’s website states that the 38kg Blowfish A2 “autonomously performs more complex combat missions, including fixed-point timing detection, fixed-range reconnaissance, and targeted precision strikes.”19 Depending on customer preferences, Ziyan offers to equip Blowfish A2 with either missiles or machine guns.

This rhetorical gambit allowed China to reap positive media attention for their support of global restrictions while avoiding hypocrisy over Chinese development of more advanced military AI and autonomy.24 More broadly there seems to be less grassroots concern of the issue among Chinese AI researchers than their counterparts in the West, though evidence on this point is limited.25 The National Innovation Institute of Defense Technology (NIIDT, an NUDT subsidiary), has established and is rapidly growing two Beijing-based research organizations focusing on the military use of AI and related tech.

In this theory, the United States’ current advantages in stealth aircraft, aircraft carriers, and precision munitions actually would be long-term disadvantages because the entrenched business and political interests that support military dominance today will hamper the United States in transitioning to an AI-enabled military technology paradigm in the future.30 As one Chinese think tank scholar explained to me, China believes that the United States is likely to spend too much to maintain and upgrade mature systems and underinvest in disruptive new systems that make America’s existing sources of advantage vulnerable and obsolete.

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