US has already lost AI fight against China, former Pentagon software chief says

The Pentagon’s senior software official said he resigned to protest the slow pace of technological transformation in the US military and because he couldn’t stand seeing China overtake America.

In his first interview since leaving his post at the Defense Ministry a week ago, Nicolas Chaillan told the Financial Times that the US failure to respond to Chinese cyberthreats and other threats put in danger the future of his children.

“We have no chance of fighting China in 15 to 20 years. Right now, it’s already a done deal; it’s already over in my opinion, ”he said, adding that there were“ good reasons to be angry ”.

Chaillan, 37, who spent three years in a Pentagon-wide effort to bolster cybersecurity and as the US Air Force’s chief software officer, said Beijing was heading for global domination due to of its advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning and cyber capabilities. .

He argued that these emerging technologies were much more critical to America’s future than hardware like big-budget fifth-generation fighter jets like the F-35.

“Whether it takes a war or not is kind of anecdotal,” he said, arguing that China was poised to dominate the future of the world, controlling everything from media narratives to geopolitics. He added that US cyber defenses in some government departments were at “kindergarten level.”

He also blamed Google’s reluctance to work with the US Department of Defense on AI and the extensive debates over AI ethics for slowing the US down. In contrast, he said Chinese companies were forced to work with Beijing and were making “massive investments” in AI without regard for ethics.

Chaillan said he plans to testify before Congress about the Chinese cyber threat to American supremacy, including in classified briefings, in the coming weeks.

He acknowledged that the United States still spends more than three times China on defense, but said the extra money was irrelevant because the American procurement costs were so high and spent in the wrong areas, while bureaucracy and excessive regulation stood in the way of much needed change in the Pentagon. .

Chaillan’s comments came after a congressionally-mandated U.S. National Security Commission warned earlier this year that China could overtake the United States as the global AI superpower over the next decade.

Senior defense officials have recognized that they “need to do better” to attract, train and retain young cyber talent, but have championed what they say is their responsible approach to adopting AI.

Michael Groen, lieutenant general of the Marine Corps and director of the Defense Department’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, told a conference last week that he wanted to deploy AI in the military in a phased manner, saying that its adoption would require a culture change within the military.

His comments come after US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in July that his department “urgently needs” to develop responsible artificial intelligence as a priority, adding that a new investment of $ 1.5 billion would accelerate the adoption of AI by the Pentagon over the next five years and that 600 AI efforts were already underway.

But he pledged that his department does not “cut corners on safety, security or ethics.”

A spokesperson for the Department of the Air Force said Frank Kendall, secretary of the US Air Force, discussed with Chaillan his recommendations for the department’s future software development after his resignation and thanked him for his contributions. .

Chaillan announced his resignation in a dazzling letter in early September, saying military officials were repeatedly tasked with cyber initiatives they lacked experience in, denouncing the Pentagon’s “laggards” and the lack of funding.

“[W]We are building critical infrastructure to fail, ”he said in his letter, which only briefly referred to China’s advances. “We won’t put a pilot in the cockpit without extensive in-flight training; why expect someone with no computer background to be close to success? [ . . .]While we were wasting time in bureaucracy, our opponents went further. “

Robert Spalding, a retired air force brigadier general who served as a defense attache in Beijing, said Chaillan had complained “with good reason” and added that he too had quit early in order to create his own encrypted defense technology solutions after being frustrated with “archaic” systems as he stole B-2 stealth bombers at work.

Chaillan, who naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 2016 and led efforts to install “zero trust” cybersecurity measures at the Department of Homeland Security before joining the Pentagon, said he was a polarizing force in the Ministry of Defense and that he alarmed some senior officials who thought he should keep his complaints “in the family”.

The serial tech entrepreneur, who started his first business at age 15 in France, said he was also starting to feel stale because he spent his three years “fixing basic cloud and hardware. laptops “instead of innovating.

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