Driven in part by competition between global superpowers, including the US and China, as they engage in an ongoing tech war, the global artificial intelligence (AI) market will be worth $908.7 billion in 2030, registering a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 35.2% from $81.3 billion in 2022. With the US-China tech war escalating, AI is playing a major role in shaping the countries’ wider social, economic, political, and military policies, say GlobalData, a data and analytics company.
GlobalData’s latest report, ‘Artificial Intelligence in Defense, reveals several AI initiatives run by militaries and defence suppliers from around the world, including the likes of the US Air Force, BAE Systems, and Raytheon Technologies. Rapid progress in AI has made it a key battleground technology for countries like the US and China.
In August 2022, the US passed the CHIPS and Science Act, which includes measures designed to limit China’s access to US chip manufacturing technology. Further export restrictions were also announced in October 2022 to prevent the export of US semiconductors to China. In response, in July 2023, China enacted export controls on gallium and germanium, rare earth elements crucial to manufacturing semiconductors and solar cells.
Benjamin Chin, Associate Analyst, Thematic Intelligence at GlobalData, comments: “Public interest in AI has surged since the release of OpenAI’s ChatGPT in November 2022, though it has been part of military strategies for decades. AI can automate and enhance all aspects of modern warfare, including training and simulation, intelligence gathering, electronic warfare, and frontline service.
“The US and China are currently engaged in a blow-for-blow exchange as they each try to limit the other’s access to materials and technology associated with AI research and development (R&D). The escalation of the US-China tech war demonstrates how crucial AI is to global superpowers’ political, economic, and military strategies.”
Military AI is beset by ethical and cultural challenges. In 2018, both the US and Russia blocked UN talks on banning the use of lethal autonomous weapons (LAWs). In 2021, the US, Russia, India, and Israel blocked further UN talks to ban the use of LAWs. AI integration presents many ethical challenges across the defence sector, ranging from humanitarian to regulatory concerns raised by LAWs and disinformation. These issues raise serious questions about the use of AI within the military and how governments should regulate its development or restrain its employment.
Chin concludes: “The prospect of integrating advanced AI into the military raises serious ethical questions among many, and rightly so. Military powers have time and again demonstrated interest in handing more control over multi-million-dollar weapons platforms to AI. In such instances, there is particular concern over autonomous systems’ ability to positively identify, target, and eliminate perceived hostile threats without human oversight. However, as with any military technology, the prospect of falling behind other countries may force militaries to integrate AI despite the ethical concerns.”