IN-DEPTH: China Wants Killer Robots to Fight the Next War

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War grips the world and the most powerful nations on earth go to battle once more. This time, however, it is machines that do the killing, operating free from all human oversight and accountability.

It’s a grim picture of future conflicts, but one that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is nevertheless working to make a reality.

The CCP is investing in artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled platforms that it hopes will one day conduct lethal missions in wartime, wholly without human input or control.

Gregory Allen, director of the Wadhwani Center for AI and Advanced Technologies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says the regime is moving well beyond any attempt to keep a human in the AI decision-making loop.

“China is pursuing development of AI-enabled lethal autonomous weapons,” Allen wrote in a prepared testimony for an April 13 hearing of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

“The best available indications … suggest that China’s strategy is ambitious, moving beyond any sort of on-the-battlefield human supervision into increasingly autonomous AI-enabled warfare.”

Though the CCP is investing heavily in a broad array of new technologies, Allen says, AI is foremost among them. The regime’s capacity to build AI-driven machines of war is quickly reaching parity with that of the United States, and may even exceed it soon.

“U.S. leadership in the realm of military AI is not at all guaranteed,” Allen says.

“While the United States has important advantages, China may be able to quickly take the lead in government and military adoption of AI capabilities. This is an outcome that the United States should seek to prevent.”

Autonomous AI Platforms ‘Inevitable’

The CCP’s pursuit of AI-driven weapons and other military platforms, though not well understood by many Americans, has been ongoing for years.

Allen notes that he first realized the remarkable ambition of such goals back in 2018. At that time, he attended a conference where he transcribed a speech made by Zeng Yi, a senior executive at China’s state-owned military company Norinco.

By Andrew Thornebrooke

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