Former Pentagon official says China has won artificial intelligence battle

The Pentagon’s former software chief resigned and said that China is headed toward global dominance in artificial intelligence due to the relatively slow pace of innovation in the United States. 

“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,” the Pentagon’s former software chief, Nick Chaillan, told the Financial Times, adding that some of the U.S.’s cyber defense systems were at “kindergarten level.”

Chaillan announced his resignation last month as an act of protest against the United States’ slow pace of tech development. Chaillan said America’s failure to aggressively pursue AI capacity was putting the nation at risk, according to Reuters

In the next decade, Western intelligence reports predict China will dominate with many emerging technologies like AI, synthetic biology and genetics, Reuters reported.

Chaillan also attributed the sluggish pace to companies like Google hesitating to work with the government on AI and ongoing debates about AI ethics in the U.S., while China pushes forward without consideration for the potential ethical consequences. 

“Google is proud to work with the U.S. government, and we have many projects underway today, including with the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, and the NIH,” a Google Cloud spokesperson said in a statement to The Hill. “We are committed to continuing to partner with the U.S. government, including the military, both on specific projects and on broader policy around AI that are consistent with our principles.”

Meanwhile, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III in July recognized that “China is our pacing challenge” when it comes to AI development.

“We’re going to compete to win, but we’re going to do it the right way,”  Austin said.  “We’re not going to cut corners on safety, security, or ethics.”

In a LinkedIn post announcing his departure on Sept. 2, Chaillan insisted that the U.S. could not “afford to be behind.”

“If the US can’t match the booming, hardworking population in China, then we have to win by being smarter, more efficient, and forward-leaning through agility, rapid prototyping and innovation. We have to be ahead and lead.”

Chaillan was also critical of the Department of Defense and its decisions to put people with limited IT experience in leadership roles over software programs. 

“The DoD should stop pretending they want industry folks to come and help if they are not going to let them do the work. While we wasted time in bureaucracy, our adversaries moved further ahead,” Chaillan said.

“I will always feel some guilt or regret in leaving. I have this sinking feeling that I am letting our warfighters, the teams, and my children down by not continuing to fight for a better outcome 20 years from now,” Chaillan added of his departure.

Updated at 2:28 p.m.

Tags Artificial intelligence US-China tensions

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