The Pentagon’s first-ever software director abruptly resigned earlier this month, and now we know exactly why: chances to fight “against China in 15 to 20 years” when it comes to cyber warfare and artificial intelligence.
Chaillan, a 37-year-old technology entrepreneur, added that cybersecurity in many government agencies is at the “kindergarten” level and that companies like Google are doing a U.S. service because they no longer work with the artificial intelligence army because Chinese companies have done “huge investment “in artificial intelligence, without clinging to the ethics of it all. And while quitting your job because America has already lost the AI race is a bit dramatic, Cheylan is not the only one who is concerned about China’s dominance in this arena.
We can all agree that no one wants China to invent a real version of Skynet, the almighty AI that is taking over the planet in Terminator movies. But we don’t want the United States to do that either. But what does the finish line in this AI race actually look like? And does the United States really want to win at any cost?
For years, experts have compared the AI race to the space race – and warned that the United States is losing it. This is a convenient analogy because it helps Americans place current conflicts with countries like China and Russia in the familiar context of the Cold War. Many claim that we are in a second Cold War and that the country that won the AI race will take the throne as the dominant superpower. But the artificial intelligence revolution is not just a struggle against wars or geopolitical domination. What we hope to build will change almost every aspect of our lives, from the way we run our business to the way we process information, to the way we move.
It is therefore imperative that the United States consider fast charging in the future, filled with autonomous vehicles, unlimited data collection and full-time monitoring. These are the applications that next-generation AI will enable, and if a small group of powerful technology companies and / or the U.S. military push for innovation without the right fences, this world-changing technology could have some grim unintended consequences. President Biden called on the United States and Europe to work together on the responsible development of new technologies in a speech at the Munich Security Conference in February.
“We need to shape the rules that will govern the advancement of technology and norms of behavior in cyberspace, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, so that they are used to lift people, not to oppress them,” Biden said. “We must uphold the democratic values that allow us to achieve all this, repelling those who would monopolize and normalize repression.
You can also look at today’s China to see what the near future of a more AI-focused society might look like. As Kai-fu Lee claims in his book AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley and the New World Order, China has been more aggressive in implementing breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, especially in monitoring and data collection applications, in part due to government support and lack of oversight, which has allowed some technical companies there to outperform competition and dominate industry goals. WeChat and the parent company Tencent are perfect examples of this. In WeChat, privacy does not seem to be a priority, but the huge amount of data that the application can collect is certainly useful for AI training.
“Imagine if you want Facebook to acquire Visa and Mastercard and integrate everything into the features, and invest money in Amazon and Uber and OpenTable and so on and so forth and make an ecosystem that once you log in to Facebook, all these things are one click and then you can pay for them with another click, “Lee told New York magazine. “This is the convenience that WeChat has brought, and its real value is the gigantic set of data from all the user data that goes through it.”
This is the kind of winning approach at all costs that seems to give China a leg up in the race for artificial intelligence. China also seems to be playing catch-up when it comes to setting standards for algorithmic ethics. Just last week, the country issued its first-ever AI ethics guidelines. The United States has long known that algorithms can be racist or sexist, and the Pentagon adopted its guidelines for ethical artificial intelligence nearly two years ago. And as we’ve learned recently, AI, which companies like Facebook and YouTube use to serve content, can also be used to radicalize people and undermine democracy. That’s why – especially after the Facebook scandal, which reveals internal research showing that its products are harmful to some users, including teenage girls – US lawmakers have recently seemed more interested in talking about how to regulate algorithms than how to beat China’s AI race .
By the way, the two things are not mutually exclusive. Chaillan, the former head of military software, has certainly earned his right to comment on how quickly the United States is developing its cybersecurity and artificially intelligent computers. And now that he is transferring his knowledge of the Pentagon’s work to the private sector, he is likely to make good money to address his concerns. For the rest of us, the rise of artificial intelligence should not feel like a race against China. It’s more like a high-stakes poker game.
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