Former Senior Pentagon Official Says China is Beating Us in AI

Image for article titled Former Senior Pentagon Official Says China is Kicking Our Ass in Artificial Intelligence

Screenshot: Lucas Ropek/U.S. Air Force

A former senior Pentagon official recently quit his job over frustrations with the government’s apparent inability to make meaningful headway on artificial intelligence and cybersecurity—two areas he says China will likely surpass us in if we don’t get our shit together.

Nicolas Chaillan, who formerly worked as the Air Force’s first Chief Software Officer, says that America is setting itself up to lose the tech war with our new favorite enemy. Chaillan took on the position in 2018, hoping to help the government implement new cybersecurity and cloud initiatives. However, he claims that government red tape, bureaucratic negotiations, and a siloed approach to implementing solutions frustrated his efforts—and that similar problems are stalling America’s ability to stay competitive.

As a result, Chaillan quit his position last month, subsequently penning a blog on LinkedIn in which he basically accused the Department of Defense of tripping over itself and hindering its own progress. In a recent interview with Financial Times, Chaillan similarly said that he feared for his children’s future and that Americans should be “angry” about the state of their country’s defense capabilities: “We have no competing fighting chance against China in 15 to 20 years. Right now, it’s already a done deal; it is already over in my opinion,” he grimly told the outlet, while also commenting that China was headed for “global dominance.”

Chaillan, who currently runs a private cybersecurity practice, also blamed debates on the “ethics of AI” for slowing down U.S. progress, and told the outlet that he plans to testify to Congress in coming weeks about the importance of prioritizing cybersecurity and AI development.

In his remarks, Chaillan joins a growing chorus of tech and national security professionals who claim that China is basically set to take over the world via its superior technological capacity and growing economic power. There is some debate as to whether these concerns are legitimate or largely overblown.

There certainly seems to be evidence for Chaillan’s assertions about U.S. cybersecurity—indeed, America’s failures should be self-evident by now. If nothing else, the SolarWinds fiasco that saw droves of federal agencies compromised by foreign hackers showed that America’s security standards need to be vastly improved.

As to the whole artificial intelligence thing, the competition between the U.S. and China points to a grim arms race for who can make the best killer robot first—the likes of which seem to make a Skynet-like future all but inevitable. It’s also worth noting that the biggest cheerleaders for this arms race are currently Google, Amazon, and other tech giants, which stand to make truckloads of cash if the government decides to splurge on new AI investments.

Admittedly, there might be other ways America could curb China’s ascent to the status of evil, world-clutching technocracy other than just trying to beat them to the punch (the concept of international prohibitions and a system of sanctions for non-compliant nations comes to mind). If Chaillan’s assertions are true, no one in Washington considers those feasible, realistic, or profitable solutions.

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