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Washington is Betting on a War with AI

01.10.2023
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According to Sh.H. Jamy

Throughout human history, technological progress has influenced the way we wage war. In most cases, states that quickly and efficiently integrate new technologies into their armed forces gain a significant advantage over their adversaries. The same is likely true for artificial intelligence (AI). The US and China are currently competing for global supremacy in AI and this competition for artificial intelligence and technological supremacy may well trigger the global landscape.

Although China periodically denies the existence of such technological competition, the United States firmly believes in it. This was evident in a speech by US Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks on August 28, 2023. Deputy Secretary of Defense Hicks' speech was important for several reasons, most notably because it provided valuable insight into the U.S. military's strategic thinking regarding China, artificial intelligence, and autonomous systems.

The core of Hicks' speech was that the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is committed to creating a "data-driven, AI-enabled military." Although AI has gained widespread popularity in the last five to seven years, leading powers have been exploring its military applications for several decades. Beginning in 2014, when the United States announced its new military strategy, it laid the groundwork for introducing AI into its military. The 2021 report from the US National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI) was perhaps the most revealing. The report said the Department of Defense is far from "artificial intelligence readiness" and called for a dramatic increase in investment by 2025, as well as "integrating artificial intelligence technologies into all aspects of warfighting." The same idea formed the basis of the speech of Deputy Minister K. Hicks.

In her speech, she also announced the Autonomous Vehicle Initiative, which she described as a new Department of Defense initiative to quickly develop and deploy “clouds of low-cost air, land or sea drones that can attack the enemy.” She called it a "big bet" that could counter China's greatest advantage: the ability to put masses of equipment and people on the battlefield. The Department of Defense hoped to use "autonomous systems in all areas that are less expensive, put fewer people at risk, and can be changed, updated, or improved in a significantly shorter time frame."

The initiative will focus on mechanisms that are “small, smart, cheap and plentiful.” The Initiative's immediate goal is for the U.S. military to "deploy autonomous systems at the scale of several thousand people in multiple domains over the next 18 to 24 months," Hicks said. This statement deserves careful analysis.

First, the scope of the involvement of autonomous systems is enormous and will apply to various domains. Since the United States is now the technological powerhouse of the world, the widespread use of autonomous systems by the US military will likely force other states to adopt such systems to maintain strategic parity. Autonomous systems will likely spread among US allies and strategic partners.

Secondly, and more importantly, is the stated timeline for the next 18 to 24 months. This is quite alarming, especially considering that issues related to the ethics and regulation of AI have been gaining momentum lately. While the United States says it is pursuing a “responsible and ethical” approach to AI in its AI Initiative, the timing makes those claims hard to believe.

 

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