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Pentagon’s ex-software chief: ‘US lost the fight for AI against China’

In a haunting warning, the Pentagon's former software chief who recently resigned, has warned that China will dominate the world through its advances in artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies, and the US has already missed the chance to prevent it.

Published: October 13, 2021, 9:50 am

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    “We don’t have a competitive chance against China in 15 to 20 years. At the moment it is already a done deal; in my opinion it is already over.”

    Nicolas Chaillan, who was the US Air Force’s first software chief and who oversaw the Pentagon’s efforts to improve cybersecurity for the past three years, announced his resignation in September to protest slow technological advances in the US military. He spoke to the Financial Times about China’s advance in AI.

    “Whether or not it takes a war is kind of an anecdote. But China, which has put artificial intelligence, machine learning and cyber capabilities in the foreground, is well on its way to gaining global supremacy and controlling everything from media coverage to geopolitics,” he said.

    Washington spends three times as much money on defense as Beijing, but this money is being used in the wrong areas, said the French-born tech entrepreneur, who took on US citizenship in 2016. AI and other emerging technologies are more important for the future of the United States than massive and highly budgeted hardware projects like the fifth generation of the F-35 fighter jets.

    One thing holding back the US is the ongoing debate over the ethics of artificial intelligence while Chinese companies actively collaborate with their government on AI, making massive investments in the field. US companies like Google are reluctant to work with US authorities, he added.

    The former software boss also sounded the alarm because of the poor cyber defense at US government agencies, which in some areas is at “kindergarten level”. In the coming weeks, Chaillan plans to testify before the US Congress on this issue in order to draw more attention to the danger that China’s technological advances pose to the US.

    Chaillan’s resignation caused quite a stir after he announced it in an open letter in early September. He complained that bureaucracy and lack of resources had prevented him from doing his job properly and said that he was tired of “hearing the right words without anything being done”.

    The Pentagon has “condemned critical infrastructures to failure” by entrusting military officials without specialist knowledge in this area with the management of cyber initiatives, argued the 37-year-old. Chaillan stated: “We wouldn’t put a pilot in the cockpit without extensive flight training; why should we expect someone with no IT experience to be anywhere near successful?”

    At a CyberSatGov conference earlier this week he said that US providers of national security satellites were unable to develop “at the speed of relevance” because they relied on the ecosystem of the Pentagon.

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