It looks like China's "doomsday" weaponry pipeline may be more American than its critics care to admit.
In a new POLITICO op-ed, Georgetown military researcher Ryan Fedasiuk revealed that much of the concern over the Chinese military's forays into artificial intelligence is misplaced because, as it turns out, the basis for their tech is as American as apple pie.
Using open source records, Fedasiuk and his team at Georgetown's Center for Security and Emerging Technology recently published the findings of a yearlong study that looked into exactly what technologies the Chinese military is buying — and, perhaps more tellingly, its spending on military AI research.
"Perhaps most importantly for US policymakers," the researcher wrote, "our investigation into the [People's Liberation Army]’s buying habits shows how Chinese progress in military AI is being driven, in part, by access to American technology and capital."
He added that American companies have played a "critical" role in providing the tech, know-how, and money to not only research military AI, but to actually buy ready-made products such as autonomous drones and AI-equipped surveillance programs.
This revelation comes after a rare public briefing from Michael Orlando, the acting head of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, who gravely warned that the US "can’t afford to lose" supremacy to China, and that if they do, the consequences will be "severe."
While American intelligence hems and haws publicly about China acquiring and using AI weaponry, the US has quietly begun regulating — rather than outright banning — the usage of autonomous robots that have the ability to kill.
What's more, Fedasuik noted, is that "China doesn’t appear focused on lethal autonomous weapons or automated nuclear launch, as some have suggested."
Indeed, the Gerogetown researchers' probe of more than 66,000 Chinese procurements from April to November 2020 found that that kind of technology was purchased the least in the dataset they surveyed, while AI or autonomous vehicles made up a third of all the procurements.
In short, the researcher determined that although he and his team "found that the Chinese military is 'intelligentizing' warfare by purchasing AI systems for all manner of applications, including autonomous vehicles, intelligence analysis, decision support, electronic warfare and cyber operations," there's also "reason to be skeptical of the most ominous predictions about China’s efforts to fully automate warfare through 'doomsday'-like weapons."
Lest we forget that this was a Georgetown researcher publishing in Capitol Hill's favorite newspaper, Fedasuik repeatedly stated that the US should be doing more to stifle, and not advance, China in the supposed "arms race for AI." "Even as the United States attempts to decouple supply chains from China when it comes to American goods," he wrote, "it also needs to consider new strategies to prevent American know-how from inadvertently powering China’s technological advancements."
There's plenty of reason to argue that in the quest for global hegemony, the US and China have entered a high tech cold war. But if one side already has the money and expertise to build these kinds of killer robots, isn't it kind of ironic for them to freak out when the other side wants them as well?
More on America's smart weapons: "US Army Readies Robot Tanks Fitted With Chainguns, Missile Launchers"