China’s military plans to “dominate” the artificial intelligence industry in the absence of aggressive Defense Department research, a top Silicon Valley executive warned Wednesday.
“[B]y 2030, they will dominate the industry,” Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, said at an event hosted by the Center for a New American Security.
Schmidt derived that eventuality from the Chinese government’s stated goals for artificial intelligence, which include overtaking U.S. capabilities by as soon as 2020, according to DoD News. His comments were a warning to a U.S. national security apparatus that he argued has moved too slowly to develop a potentially-critical technology.
“The military as a general statement doesn’t build things, it uses contractors,” Schmidt said. “The contractors build what the military asks for, because they’re contractors, and the military has not been asking for AI systems. And it takes five to 10 to 20 to 30 years to go from the spec to the delivery.”
Artificial intelligence is an increasingly important part of national security strategy around the world, not only in China. “Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia, but for all humankind,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said in September, according to RT. “It comes with colossal opportunities, but also threats that are difficult to predict. Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.”
It’s also a priority in the United States. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters that the Defense Department has a plan for using artificial intelligence within the military, though he echoed some of Schmidt’s concerns.
“It's one that's got to be better integrated, I believe, by the Department of Defense, because I see many of the greatest advances out here on the West Coast in private industry,” Mattis said in August. “And the bottom line is we will get better at integrating the advances in A.I. that are being taken here in the Valley into the — in the U.S. military.”
But Schmidt, who chairs the Defense Innovation Board, said the Pentagon needs to pick up the pace. “If were in a huge war with a major adversary, I’m sure the rules would be different,” he said. “Right now, the planning procedures take too long.”