HomeAttacks on U.S.The Rise of China's Killer Robots: A New Era in Warfare

The Rise of China’s Killer Robots: A New Era in Warfare

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China’s autonomous “killer robots” are poised to revolutionize the battlefield within the next two years, signaling a new age of AI-powered warfare. As reported by NPR, experts believe this development could pose “the greatest danger to the survival of humankind.” This advancement in remote warfare, from drones to cyberattacks, has become central to modern conflicts, and China’s rapid progress in AI military technology is outpacing that of other nations, including the United States.

In recent years, the U.S. Department of Defense has invested heavily in drone technology, unveiling a $1 billion upgrade to its drone fleet. Yet, China’s development of fully autonomous, AI-powered robots is moving at an astonishing pace. According to defense analyst Francis Tusa, China is advancing four to five times faster than the U.S. in developing AI-powered ships, submarines, and aircraft.

During military drills with Cambodia, China’s People’s Liberation Army showcased a gun-mounted robot dog manufactured by Unitree Robotics. This robot, and others like it, highlight China’s collaboration with Russia in developing AI-powered autonomous weaponry. Such robots could drastically alter the balance of power on the battlefield, as they are designed to operate independently, making lethal decisions without human intervention.

The U.S.-China AI Arms Race

The United States and its allies are also developing AI-controlled weapons, including unmanned submarines and drone fighters. These efforts aim to counter China’s growing military capabilities. For example, the Australian Navy is launching three unmanned, AI-powered submarines called Ghost Sharks, which will be operational by mid-2025. These subs are cheaper and faster to produce than traditional nuclear-powered submarines, demonstrating how AI can revolutionize military technology.

Without the need to cocoon a crew, the design, manufacture, and performance of submarines are radically transformed. Shane Arnott, senior vice-president of engineering at U.S. defense contractor Anduril, stated, “A huge amount of the expense and systems go into supporting the humans.” By removing humans from the equation, submarines like the Ghost Shark can be built more efficiently and at a lower cost.

The U.S. is not far behind. By 2025, America plans to deploy “multiple thousands” of autonomous, unmanned systems to offset China’s numerical advantage in missiles, warships, and aircraft. Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks emphasized that these systems would be “harder to plan for, harder to hit, harder to beat.”

Consequences Beyond the Battlefield

While the focus is on military applications, there is growing concern that China might use these technologies to exert control over its population. AI systems capable of analyzing surveillance imagery, social media behavior, and even online shopping habits could enable “micro-targeting” of individuals. This means AI-powered drones or precision weapons could target key combatants or commanders, even away from the front lines.

Moreover, these technologies could be used for broader social control. For instance, swarms of small, lethal drones could target entire populations of military-aged males from specific regions or ethnic groups, as computer scientist Stuart Russell warned in a BBC lecture. This potential for domestic use of military AI highlights the dual-use nature of these technologies, posing a significant threat to civil liberties and human rights.

Francis Tusa, a leading defense analyst, added a chilling perspective: “I would be surprised if we don’t see autonomous machines coming out of China within two years.” This rapid advancement suggests a future where AI-driven robots could make independent decisions to kill, raising profound ethical and safety concerns.

The Future of Warfare

The race to develop AI-powered weapons is intensifying, with both the U.S. and China striving to gain the upper hand. Winning this technological battle is seen as crucial for maintaining global power. A report from the Special Competitive Studies Project, led by former Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, stresses that failing to act could shift the global balance of power and threaten the peace and stability maintained by the U.S. for nearly 80 years.

China’s ambitions are clear. By prioritizing high-tech military development, President Xi Jinping aims to make China a dominant global power. The AI arms race between the U.S. and China is not just about military supremacy but about shaping the future world order.

In this high-tech contest, seizing the upper hand across fields including AI and autonomous weapons, like Ghost Shark, could determine who comes out on top. Mick Ryan, a recently retired Australian army major general, highlighted the importance of winning the software battle: “It governs everything from weather prediction, climate change models, and testing new-era nuclear weapons to developing exotic new weapons and materials that can provide a leap-ahead capability on the battlefield and beyond.”

If China wins out, it will be well placed to reshape the global political and economic order, by force if necessary, according to technology and military experts.

A Grim Outlook

Most Americans alive today have only known a world in which the United States was the single true military superpower, according to the Offset-X report. If America fails to act, it “could see a shift in the balance of power globally, and a direct threat to the peace and stability that the United States has underwritten for nearly 80 years in the Indo-Pacific,” the report warned.

The stakes are also high for Beijing. If the U.S. alliance prevails, it will make it far harder for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to seize democratically governed Taiwan, control the shipping lanes of East Asia, and dominate its neighbors. Beijing sees Taiwan as an inalienable part of China and hasn’t ruled out the use of force to subdue it.

Ethical Dilemmas and Future Challenges

Some leading military strategists say AI will herald a turning point in military power as dramatic as the introduction of nuclear weapons. Others warn of profound dangers if AI-driven robots begin making lethal decisions independently and have called for a pause in AI research until agreement is reached on regulation related to the military application of AI.

Despite such misgivings, both sides are scrambling to field uncrewed machines that will exploit AI to operate autonomously: subs, warships, fighter jets, swarming aerial drones, and ground combat vehicles. These programs amount to the development of killer robots to fight in tandem with human decision-makers. Such robots – some designed to operate in teams with conventional ships, aircraft, and ground troops – already have the potential to deliver sharp increases in firepower and change how battles are fought, according to military analysts.

Perhaps even more revolutionary than autonomous weapons is the potential for AI systems to inform military commanders and help them decide how to fight – by absorbing and analyzing the vast quantities of data gathered from satellites, radars, sonar networks, signals intelligence, and online traffic. Technologists say this information has grown so voluminous it is impossible for human analysts to digest. AI systems trained to crunch this data could deliver commanders with better and faster understanding of a battlefield and provide a range of options for military operations.

The Unknown Future

Who will ultimately win the battle to master AI-powered weapons remains uncertain. China’s huge and sophisticated manufacturing sector gives it advantages in mass production, while America remains home to most of the world’s dominant and most innovative technology and software companies. However, the projects on both sides are shrouded in tight secrecy.

The July 1 death in a traffic accident in Beijing of a leading Chinese military AI expert, Colonel Feng Yanghe, provides a small window into the country’s ambitions. Feng had developed an AI system called “War Skull,” which could “draft operation plans, conduct risk assessments and provide backup plans in advance based on incomplete tactical data,” according to China Daily.

The Biden Administration is so concerned about the tech race that it has moved to block China’s drive to conquer AI and other advanced technologies. Last month, Biden signed an executive order that will prohibit some new U.S. investment in China in sensitive technologies that could be used to bolster military capacity.

The development of autonomous “killer robots” by China and the U.S. could lead us into the dystopian nightmares from the darkest science fiction. While these advancements promise increased military capabilities, they also lead us down a path where AI will fight better than humans. The potential use of these technologies for social control and the autonomous execution of lethal decisions takes us down a path that even the most pessimistic of futurists dare not contemplate.

Moves to limit AI and robotics in warfare are now too little too late. this is happening and will happen very quickly, the race cannot be stopped.

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