Tue, Feb 07, 2017 - Page 9 News List

China’s intelligent weaponry gets smarter

As China asserts itself as a force in artificial intelligence and other high-tech research, the US is left to consider the implications of its slipping control over military technology

By John Markoff and Matthew Rosenberg  /  NY Times News Service

Rapid Chinese progress has touched off a debate in the US between military strategists and technologists over whether the Chinese are merely imitating advances, or are engaged in independent innovation that will soon overtake the US in the field.

“The Chinese leadership is increasingly thinking about how to ensure they are competitive in the next wave of technologies,” Council on Foreign Relations specialist in emerging technologies and national security Adam Segal said.

In August last year, the state-run China Daily reported that the country had embarked on the development of a cruise missile system with a “high level” of AI. The new system appears to be a response to a missile the US Navy is expected to deploy next year to counter growing Chinese military influence in the Pacific.

Known as the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), it is described as a “semiautonomous” weapon. According to the Pentagon, this means that though targets are chosen by human soldiers, the missile uses AI technology to avoid defenses and make final targeting decisions.

The new Chinese weapon typifies a strategy known as “remote warfare,” said John Arquilla, a military strategist at the Naval Post Graduate School in Monterey, California. The idea is to build large fleets of small ships that deploy missiles, to attack an enemy with larger ships, like aircraft carriers.

“They are making their machines more creative,” he said. “A little bit of automation gives the machines a tremendous boost.”

Whether or not the Chinese will quickly catch the US in AI and robotics technologies is a matter of intense discussion and disagreement in the US.

Baidu chief scientist Andrew Ng (吳恩達) said the US may be too myopic and self-confident to understand the speed of the Chinese competition.

“There are many occasions of something being simultaneously invented in China and elsewhere, or being invented first in China and then later making it overseas,” he said. “But then US media reports only on the US version. This leads to a misperception of those ideas having been first invented in the US.”

A key example of Chinese progress that goes largely unreported in the US is Iflytek, an AI company that has focused on speech recognition and understanding natural language. The company has won international competitions both in speech synthesis and in translation between Chinese and English-language texts.

The company, which Chinese technologists say has a close relationship with the government for the development of surveillance technology, said it is working with the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology on a “Humanoid Answering Robot.”

“Our goal is to send the machine to attend the college entrance examination, and to be admitted by key national universities in the near future,” Iflytek chief executive Liu Qingfeng (劉慶峰) said.

The speed of the Chinese technologists, compared with US and European AI developers, is noteworthy.

In April last year, then-director of Intel’s laboratory in China Wu Gansha (吳甘沙) left his post and began assembling a team of researchers from Intel and Google to build a self-driving car company. Last month, the company, Uisee Technology, met its goal — taking a demonstration to the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas — after just nine months of work.

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