Esper: DoD to Fast Track Battlefield AI; China Aims to Dominate in 10 Years; Putin Says AI Leader Will Be ‘Ruler of the World’


Secretary of Defense, Dr. Mark T. Esper records statement for virtual A.I. Symposium in the Pentagon Briefing Room September 8, 2020. (DoD photo by Marvin Lynchard)

Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper gave remarks at the virtual Joint Artificial Intelligence Center symposium on Wednesday about the race to develop artificial intelligence.

Developing Artificial Intelligence technology has the potential to change the battlefield, and the first country to deploy AI will gain enormous advantages over its competitors, according to U.S. Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark Esper.

“History informs us that those who are first to harness once-in-a-generation technologies often have a decisive advantage on the battlefield for years to come. I experienced this firsthand during Operation Desert Storm, when the United States’ military’s smart bombs, stealth aircraft and satellite-enabled GPS helped decimate Iraqi forces and their Soviet equipment,” the secretary said Wednesday at the virtual Artificial Intelligence Symposium in Washington.

Potentially artificial intelligence can be even more far-reaching than those technologies.

“Unlike advanced munitions or next-generation platforms, artificial intelligence is in a league of its own, with the potential to transform nearly every aspect of the battlefield, from the back office to the front lines. That is why we cannot afford to cede the high ground to revisionist powers intent on bending, breaking or reshaping international rules and norms in their favor — to the collective detriment of others,” Esper said.

The U.S. is pioneering a vision for emerging technology that protects the U.S. Constitution and the rights of all Americans. U.S. officials would like to see allies and partners adopt the standards of individual liberty, democracy, human rights and respect for the rule of law.

“With each generation come new technologies that fundamentally alter the way we think about, plan, and prepare for war. AI is one such breakthrough with boundless potential – for good or for ill. However, unlike our competitors, we commit to using these capabilities to preserve peace, promote prosperity, respect rights, and maintain the free and open order that benefits all nations,” said Esper in his speech.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that the nation that leads in AI will be the “ruler of the world.” Russia has increased investments in the advancement of AI technology.

“His intent is to employ any possible advantage to expand Russia’s influence and chip away at the sovereignty of others,” Esper said.

When the Russians invaded Ukraine they used sophisticated and well-coordinated combination of unmanned aerial vehicles, cyber attacks, and artillery barrages to inflict severe damage on Ukrainian forces.

“Since then, Moscow has announced the development of AI-enabled autonomous systems across ground vehicles, aircraft, nuclear submarines and command and control. We expect them to deploy these capabilities in future combat zones,” said Esper.

In addition to Russia’s plans, the goal of the Chinese Communist Party is to be the AI world leader in 10 years. The People’s Liberation Army views AI as leap-frog technology. This would allow the largest military on Earth to field low-cost, long-range autonomous vehicles and systems to counter America’s conventional power projection.

“At this moment, Chinese weapons manufacturers are selling autonomous drones they claim can conduct lethal, targeted strikes. Meanwhile, the Chinese government is advancing the development of next-generation stealth UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicle], which they are preparing to export internationally,” said the secretary.

China itself is developing technology that allow them to invade the privacy of every citizen in their country.

“Beijing is constructing a 21st-century surveillance state designed to wield unprecedented control over its own people. With hundreds of millions of cameras strategically located across the country and billions of data points generated by the Chinese Internet of Things, the CCP will soon be able to identify almost anyone entering a public space, and censor dissent in real time,” Esper said.

The system the Chinese are using can be used to invade private lives, leaving no text message, internet search, purchase or personal activity free from Beijing’s ever tightening grip shared Esper.

“As we speak, the PRC is deploying — and honing — its AI surveillance apparatus to support the targeted repression of its Muslim Uighur population,” he said.

“Likewise, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong are being identified, seized, imprisoned or worse by the CCP’s digital police state — unencumbered by privacy laws or ethical governing principles. As China scales this technology, we fully expect it to sell these capabilities abroad, enabling other autocratic governments to move toward a new era of digital authoritarianism,” said Esper.

Earlier this year, DOD adopted ethical principles for the use of AI-based on core values, such as transparency, reliability and governability.

“These principles make clear to the American people — and the world — that the United States will once again lead the way in the responsible development and application of emerging technologies, reinforcing our role as the global security partner of choice,” said the secretary.

Esper also touted the work of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center. More than 200 civil service and military professionals work diligently to accelerate AI solutions and deliver these capabilities to the warfighter.

The JAIC helps the joint force organize, fight and win at machine speed. AI helps in enhancing wildfire and flood responses through computer vision technology, something that is really vital as the country faces flooding and large fire challenges on the West Coast.

“The JAIC is utilizing every aspect of artificial intelligence as a transformative instrument at home and abroad. The JAIC is also lowering technical barriers to AI adoption by building a cloud-based platform to allow DOD components to test, validate and field capabilities with greater speed, at greater scale. The goal is to make AI tools and data accessible across the force, which will help synchronize projects and reduce redundancy, among many other benefits,” he said.

“We approach AI as we have other high-tech breakthroughs throughout our department’s history — with rigorous standards for testing and fielding capabilities and the highest ethical expectations,” said the secretary.

“Technology may constantly change, but our commitment to our core values does not,” Esper said.


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