It is not news that China is inching closer to the west in terms of its technological developments. But in some key developments, particularly in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI), they are narrowing the gap at an alarming rate. If you look at where the top AI research papers are coming from, China dominates. China also consistently files more AI patents than any other country. Likewise they have increasingly more AI technology firms. Second only to the US. If the US is able to maintain its grip on AI technological advancements how is it that China could still have superior AI in the battlefield?
Primer’s CEO, Sean Gourley discussed this question recently with Dan Faggella on the AI in Business Podcast. Sean and Dan also discussed how China has certain advantages in developing AI capabilities for cyberwarfare and how the West can maintain its strategic advantage in the global AI race. The following is a brief summary capturing select highlights of their discussion.
What is it about China that could give them an advantage?
Sean and Dan discussed how unlike in the US and other western countries, advanced AI technology companies are catapulted into government contracts in China. Sean noted that this is because they have members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on their board and they get a clear path to get their tools into the hands of the military members on the front lines. Compare this to the US where the contract process takes years and they are most often given to huge consulting companies that are not as strong in AI technology generation.
The US and other western nations recognize this issue and are trying to streamline the process. But Sean warns that this change can’t come soon enough as speed is the critical factor when talking about AI technology. Even if the US has the top AI technology, if it takes three years to get the contract and eventually get the technology in front of soldiers then the advantage is gone. If China is able to get it to the front lines in 1-2 years they can even be behind technically and still out compete us on the battlefield.
“The speed to deployment in a world where AI is increasing in the rate that it is, is the determining factor of who has the best AI advantage in conflict, not who has the best AI capabilities in research.”
How can the West maintain its strategic advantage?
Contracts to acquire advanced AI technologies need to come from the top down to the AI companies, according to Sean. “There have to be big contracts on the table that have 5-10 years of funding towards it.” It can’t just come from the bottom up because there are too many barriers to entry.
In determining which companies will build the products, i.e. do you opt for huge consulting firms or agile AI startups, the Defense Department should factor in the level of precision behind China’s AI models. Noting, for example, that “If you are going to run image recognition on top of your drones, [know that China] has spent 10 years understanding the holes in it so they can quickly exploit it.” Western allies need to quickly catch up and identify the AI tech companies with the products and talent that can get them there.
Collaboration between strategic partners is also key here, according to Sean. If the US and UK can establish an AI systems and model sharing relationship then it will send a strong signal to the rest of the EU for further partnerships. “We have a lot to learn from allies [like Ukraine] dealing with attacks from Russia right now…How has warfare changed… [including] image recognition systems on drones and detection for satellite reconnaissance. Those are important lessons to see how AI can be operationalized.”
Sean also warned about the west maintaining control of the information space. When considering TikTok, which dominates user screen time in the US, Sean notes that: “You can’t fight a war in this environment if you don’t have control over your own information networks because they are so susceptible to attacks … the simplistic way to bait an opponent is to convince them that there is no war to fight.”
To learn more about Primer’s work with the defense and intelligence communities, visit https://primer.ai. To listen to the full interview, visit: How the West Can Compete with China in the Global AI Race – with Sean Gourley of Primer