China and US Tackle Military Tech, Can They Overcome Differences?

In a conference last month, China’s President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden recognised the critical need to address the risks of advanced AI systems, particularly in military applications.

Despite their commitment to cooperation, the lack of specific details and ongoing disagreements pose challenges to effective regulation.

The race for AI supremacy between the two superpowers intensifies, raising concerns about managing the risks associated with military AI beyond geopolitical rivalries.

The 2019 collaboration on guidelines for lethal autonomous weapon systems (LAWS) underscores a shared acknowledgment, but the non-binding nature and lack of a common definition present significant obstacles.

US-China Competition or Cooperation?

Dr. Guangyu Qiao-Franco, an assistant professor, expresses skepticism about effective collaboration, citing underlying motives and strained relations.

He said:

“I’m not optimistic, to be honest, because [the US and China] are still too divided. I feel like the US has this incentive to limit China’s technology development. And then also China, of course, wants to increase its technology independence and wants to reduce those technology choke points.”

The multifaceted applications of AI in military operations require tailored regulatory frameworks.

This perspective comes from Neil Davison, a senior adviser at the International Committee of the Red Cross, who emphasises the diverse nature of these applications, ranging from image recognition to AI-driven cyberattacks.

The lack of a clear definition for LAWS complicates regulatory efforts, with divisions between developed and developing nations.

China’s unique position as a voice for the Global South, coupled with significant AI investments, poses challenges.

Mutual vulnerability arising from military AI deployment may serve as a catalyst for binding regulations.

Backchannel meetings and dialogues between Tsinghua University and the Brookings Institution indicate a willingness to engage.

Dr. Lora Saalman suggests a joint US-China statement on human control in nuclear decision-making as a starting point.

Can Geopolitical Differences be Overcome?

As China and the US navigate AI risks, the questions persist:

Can they overcome geopolitical differences and establish binding regulations for military AI?

Will these nations find common ground, or will geopolitical tensions impede progress in this critical realm?

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