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  • Robert Farago

DOD on Chinese AI: What Me Worry?

Don't Skynet My China!

“Artificial intelligence may transform many aspects of the human condition, nowhere more than in the military sphere,” the Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Kathleen Hicks writes for politico. Scary thought, what with Skynet and all? Nah! Apparently, this “AI will destroy humanity” shit is old news at the DOD.

Although many Americans may only now be focusing on AI’s potential promise and peril, the U.S. Defense Department has worked for over a decade to ensure its responsible use. The challenge now is to convince other nations, including the People’s Republic of China, to join the United States in committing to norms of responsible AI behavior.

I don’t know about you, but watching Cheers taught me that Norm is hardly a paragon of responsible behavior.

By the same token, the People’s Republic of China’s history of catastrophic nuclear submarine accidents doesn’t fill me with confidence re: their military’s ability to create effective AI “guardrails.”

But I am confident that Dr. Hicks has seen at least one of the Terminator movies.

We draw a bright line when it comes to nuclear weapons. The policy of the United States is to maintain a human “in the loop” for all actions critical to informing and executing decisions by the president to initiate and terminate the use of nuclear weapons.

Am I the only one who finds it strange that Dr. Hicks writes about maintaining a human “in the loop” for starting and stopping nuclear war; acknowledging that AI will, in some sense, make decisions about the deployment of nuclear weapons? Strange in a Dr. Strangelove kinda way.

Secretary Hicks’ op ed quickly changes the subject. “We don’t use AI to censor, constrain, repress or disempower people,'“ she assures freedom-loving taxpayers.

Kill, yes (via AI-enhanced “battle-space awareness, cyber and reconnaissance, logistics, force support and other back-office functions”). Disempower, no.

Given her strong stand on “extremism” and her incessant Tweets about LGBTQ+ military members, I’m skeptical about Ms. Hick’s promise that the Department of Defense won’t follow the White House’s lead in terms of government-initiated, AI-enabled censorship.

Likewise, I’m not 100 percent sure about her pledge that the DOD won’t use AI to do their part to continue Uncle Sam’s illustrious tradition of playing footsie with repressive regimes.

That said, who trusts Commies with AI? Not Dr. Hicks!

She knows a theoretical PRC commitment to prevent AI armageddon is one thing. Expecting the red devils to live up to that commitment would be like trusting Bill Clinton with the nuclear football. Not that the good doctor puts it that way.

If the PRC credibly and verifiably committed to maintaining human involvement for all actions critical to informing and executing sovereign decisions to use nuclear weapons, it might find that commitment warmly received by its neighbors and others in the international community. And rightfully so.

It sounds crazy, but it just might work! If only China gave a damn. To that end, Dr. Hicks further extends an olive branch to our ideological adversary. “The United States does not seek an AI arms race with China.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. is in an AI arms race with China. Note to China’s fearless leader:

With AI and all our capabilities, we seek only to deter aggression and defend our country, our allies and partners, and our interests.

So that’s alright then. Hold on. What are America’s “interests," exactly?

Money, obviously. As befits a woman who’s spent her entire working career navigating one governmental or quasi-governmental swamp or another, Dr. Hicks keeps her cards close to her chest.

America and China are competing to shape the future of the 21st century, technologically and otherwise. That competition is one which we intend to win — not in spite of our values, but because of them.

To paraphrase The Right Stuff, our AI is better than their AI. Here’s hoping.

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