Xi Jinping Looks to Tap Unmanned Tech, AI to Bolster China Military

President Xi Jinping recently ordered the armed forces to develop new combat capabilities, hinting to the use of AI (artificial intelligence). Speaking at the National People’s Congress meeting, the Chinese president requested military forces to promote innovation in a bid to improve strategic capabilities within new fields.

During that meeting, military representatives discussed various topics, from the use of artificial intelligence to the development and use of unmanned combat systems as well as cyberspace’s defense capabilities. National Policy Foundation’s Chung Chieh stated that from the president’s comments at the meeting as well as in the past, he seemed to be referring to AI combat capabilities. Chieh added that the president’s current objective was to achieve integrated development for the military as quickly as possible.

Analysts believe the president’s remarks hinted at ambitions to control sea communication lines and become a sea-power nation.

Using artificial intelligence, militaries could reduce the duration it took to complete different tasks, including conducting strikes and finding targets. AI could also accelerate the pace of combat as well as have control of many unmanned fighting vehicles at the same time.

Globally, the military that masters this new mode of combat will have an edge over others.

Following this legislative meeting with the president, legislators underscored the necessity of making technology a key capability to improve the country’s strategic power. One legislator, Hao Jingwen, discussed how the technology for swarms of drones on land, sea and air had successfully been developed then deployed in local conflicts.

Jingwen explained that China needed to analyze the crucial role novel combat capabilities were capable of playing in modern wars, inform itself about the attendant development trends and carry out active research in specialties such as AI and big data, in addition to the internet of things (IoT).

Tamkang University assistant professor of international affairs & strategic studies, Dr. Ying-Yu Lin, stated that while the novel combat capabilities drew on technological and scientific capabilities, it was difficult to predict how they would be exploited to meet the president’s standards. Lin explained that China itself was still figuring out the ropes to move forward on this front, noting that if the country wanted to be prepared for the future’s technological warfare, it needed to enhance its training techniques.

Lin believes the traditional military training style will be eliminated with the adoption of these new combat capabilities, giving way to the recruitment of high-technology professional talents. He noted, however, that such talents could have better prospects with private enterprises or foreign companies rather than joining the People’s Liberation Army.

As companies such as Alphabet Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOGL) (NASDAQ: GOOG) push the current limits of what AI can do, different countries, including China, are already thinking of how they can exploit these novel technologies to give their militaries an edge over their global rivals.

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