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China racing for AI military edge over US, says report

A report by a US-based think-tank says China's military might leverage its country's rapid advances in artificial intelligence to modernise its armed forces

Reuters  |  Washington 

artificial intelligence, AI, technology
Photo: Reuters

A research arm of the US intelligence community just wrapped up a competition to see who could develop the best facial recognition The challenge: Identify as many passengers as possible walking on an aircraft boarding ramp.

Of all the entries, it was a Chinese start-up company called Yitu Tech that walked away with the $25,000 prize this month, the highest of three cash awards.

The competition was one of many examples cited in a report by a US-based think-tank about how China’s military might leverage its country’s rapid advances in (AI) to modernise its armed forces and, potentially, seek advantages against the

is no longer in a position of technological inferiority relative to the but rather has become a true peer (competitor) that may have the capability to overtake the in AI,” said the report, written by Elsa Kania at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) and due to be released on Tuesday.

Future US-competition in AI, Kania wrote, “could alter future economic and military balances of power.”

Alphabet’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, who heads a Pentagon advisory board, delivered a similar warning about China’s potential at a recent gathering in Washington.

Schmidt noted that China’s national plan for the future of artificial intelligence, announced in July, calls for catching up to the in the coming years and eventually becoming the world’s primary innovation centre.

“I’m assuming that our lead will continue over the next five years, and that will catch up extremely quickly. So, in five years we’ll kind of be at the same level, possibly,” Schmidt said told the conference, which was also hosted by CNAS.

An unreleased Pentagon document, viewed by Reuters, warned earlier this year that Chinese firms were skirting US oversight and gaining access to sensitive US. with potential military applications by buying stakes in US firms.

In response, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the US Senate and House of Representatives this month introduced bills to toughen US foreign investment rules.

The CNAS report noted the Chinese acquisitions and said Beijing faces hurdles to forging a domestic industry to rival the United States, including recruiting top talent.

Schmidt, however, expressed confidence in China’s ability.

“If you have any kind of... concern that, somehow their system and educational system is not going to produce the kind of people that I’m talking about, you’re wrong,” he said. Artificial intelligence, which promises to revolutionise transportation with the advent of self-driving cars and bring major advances to medicine, is also expected to have military applications that could alter the battlefield.

Some machine learning is already being applied to a Pentagon project that aims to have computers help sift through drone footage, reducing the work for human analysts.

China’s People’s Liberation Army is also investing in a range of AI-related projects and PLA research institutes are partnering with the Chinese defense industry, the report said, citing publicly available documents.

“The PLA anticipates that the advent of could fundamentally change the character of warfare,” the report said.

First Published: Wed, November 29 2017. 01:18 IST