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

The new supercomputer, like similar machines anywhere in the world, has a variety of uses, and does not by itself represent a direct military challenge. It can be used to model climate change situations, for instance, or to perform analysis of large data sets.

However, similar advances in high-performance computing being made by the Chinese could be used to push ahead with machine-learning research, which would have military applications, along with more typical defense functions, such as simulating nuclear weapons tests or breaking the encryption used by adversaries.

While there appear to be relatively cozy relationships between the Chinese government and commercial technology efforts, the same cannot be said about the US.

The Pentagon recently restarted its beachhead in Silicon Valley, known as the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental facility (DIUx). It is an attempt to rethink bureaucratic US government contracting practices in terms of the faster and more fluid style of Silicon Valley.

The government has not yet undone the damage to its relationship with the Valley brought about by Edward Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Agency’s surveillance practices. Many Silicon Valley firms remain hesitant to be seen as working too closely with the Pentagon out of fear of losing access to China’s market.

“There are smaller companies, the companies who sort of decided that they’re going to be in the defense business, like a Palantir,” said Peter Singer, an expert in the future of war at New America, a think tank in Washington, referring to the Palo Alto, California, start-up founded in part by venture capitalist Peter Thiel.

“But if you’re thinking about the big, iconic tech companies, they can’t become defense contractors and still expect to get access to the Chinese market,” Singer said.

Those concerns are real for Silicon Valley.

“No one sort of overtly says that, because the Pentagon can’t say it’s about China, and the tech companies can’t,” he said. “But it’s there in the background.”

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