Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the future of warfare. Who will win? The name of the new game is weaponization of AI – including lethal autonomous weapons systems, cyberspace operations, command and control, intelligence collection, analysis, logistics and information operations. War has already moved from ‘informatization’ to ‘intelligentization’. According to , “Whoever becomes the leader in this field will rule the world”.

Who will win? The future conflict between China and the US will be an algorithmic contest comprising autonomous war machines with AI making faster and more calculated battlefield decisions. Yes, America is currently ahead of China. But, China “is on a trajectory to overtake the US in the decade ahead (according to Graham Allison, professor of government, Harvard Kennedy School and Member of the Board, Belfer Center).”

In 2015, China’s Baidu came up with “AI software capable of surpassing human levels of language recognition, almost a year in advance of Microsoft…” In 2016 and 2017, “Chinese teams won the top prize at the Large Scale Visual Recognition Challenge…” In 2017, announced “A Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan” and created the ‘Central Military-Civil Fusion Development Committee (CMCGDC)’ which will “speed the transfer of AI technology from commercial companies and research institutions to the military”.

In the US, there are cultural, legal and regulatory hurdles to the transfer of AI technology from commercial companies to the military. China, on the other hand, has a “unified, whole-of-government effort to develop AI…” and AI’s military applications. The US has ‘security versus privacy’ issues. China has none.

As I write, Chinese companies are ahead of their US counterparts in fintech, facial recognition, speech tech and drone tech. American companies are ahead of their Chinese counterparts in enterprise software, advanced semiconductors and quantum computing. China is also ahead of the US in data collected, data captured and data copied. China has “lower barriers to data collection and lower costs to data labelling…” As a consequence, China has larger data bases on which AI systems train.

According to General John R Allen, US Marine Corps, “The Hyperwar era is upon us; AI-fueled, machine-waged conflict.” China versus the US will be a war “fought by swarms of unmanned, autonomous weapons across land, air, sea, space and cyber.” China versus the US will be fought by “autonomous weapons using artificial intelligence-based algorithms to make decisions, advanced sensors to manoeuvre and pinpoint precise vulnerabilities in targets and offensive and defensive cyber capabilities – all in real-time and independent of human decision-making.”

China versus the US will be a “conflict where human decision making is almost entirely absent from the observe-orient-decide-act (OODA) loop.” Yes, commanders will “continue to supply intent, but the prosecution of the war will shift to machines”. China versus the US is about “distributed command and control capacity, concurrency of action/perfect coordination, logistical simplification and instant mission adaptations.”

China versus the US – the great power rivalry. Who will win? America has ‘Faangs’ – Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google. China has ‘Bats’ – Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent. In my considered opinion, China’s management of its AI ecosystem will give China a slight competitive edge over the US – and this competitive edge will eventually translate into China’s warfighting advantage.

The writer is a columnist based in Islamabad.

Email: [email protected] Twitter: @saleemfarrukh

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