As China and other nations scale up their tech investments, the US defence sector needs to rapidly adopt commercially developed technologies on a larger scale to maintain its military edge, say tech industry leaders.
The Pentagon has been a pioneer in developing advanced technologies, but tech leaders believe that now private players have more advanced capabilities in artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud computing, powered by a bigger talent pool and more research budget than the government.
The AI competition
China is already funnelling its advancements in AI into the military, while the US is yet to collaborate with the private sector in a concrete way on such technologies, said the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence.
The commission was created in 2018 by the Congress and is chaired by former Google chief executive Eric Schmidt. The panel also has Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, Oracle CEO Safra Catz, as well as scientists from Microsoft and Google, Pentagon officials and academics.
“The race to research, develop, and deploy AI and associated technologies is intensifying the technology competition that underpins a wider strategic competition. China is organised, resourced, and determined to win this contest. The United States retains advantages in critical areas, but current trends are concerning,” the commission said in its report.
“The US government must embrace the AI competition and organise to win it by orchestrating and aligning US strengths,” it said.
The road ahead
In the 756-page report, the commission said the Pentagon should drive organisational reforms and buy commercially designed software and hardware from Silicon Valley.
The military, bureaucracy and the private sector should work in tandem as a large tech company, using US’ vast cloud computing infrastructure, the commission suggested. The government should focus on research, training and recruiting, the report said.
To establish foundations for integration of AI by 2025, the department of defence should build digital infrastructure, develop a digitally-literate workforce, and institute more agile acquisition, budget, and oversight processes.
“It also requires strategically divesting from military systems that are ill-equipped for AI-enabled warfare and instead investing in next-generation capabilities,” said the report.
Although the Pentagon has funded startups and tested technologies, it has not been able to adopt new technologies on a large scale.
“The government is not prepared,” The Wall Street Journal quoted Schmidt as saying in an interview.
“There are so many examples where digital technology would completely change the way the systems work.”
Some members of the Congress and the Pentagon have supported Schmidt’s ideas, including that of creating a special technology section in the national defence strategy and buying new software.
However, critics are wary that the tech giants are actually looking at Pentagon as a profit-rich target. Others believe that regulating tech giants who collaborate with the government would become more difficult with their involvement in the defence strategies.
(Edited by : Shoma Bhattacharjee)