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Prelims Capsule

Science & Technology

Artificial Intelligence Arms Race between US and China

Artificial Intelligence Arms Race between US and China


  • GS 3 || Science & Technology || Fourth Industrial Revolution || Artificial Intelligence

Why in the news?

Artificial intelligence has already created useful technologies that are utilized by people all around the world on a daily basis. In the decades and centuries ahead, its continuing growth, driven by the following ideas, will provide incredible opportunities to serve and empower people.

Present context:

  • Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin:
    • To win the AI arms race with China, the U.S. will spend nearly $1.5 billion on artificial intelligence research and development over the next five years.
    • “Beijing already talks about using AI for a range of missions, from surveillance to cyber-attacks to autonomous weapons. And in the AI realm, as in many others, we understand that China is our pacing challenge, we’re going to compete to win, but we’re going to do it the right way.
    • “Austin emphasized that the use of AI must be “responsible, equitable, traceable, reliable, and governable.”

What is an “arms race”?

  • The term “arms race” has no commonly accepted definition in international relations, but it refers to a competition between two or more governments in the development and manufacture of military weapons.
  • From game theoretic analysis emerges a more technical description of an “arms race.” Arms races can be framed as a type of prisoner’s dilemma when applying game theory to international affairs.
  • That is, while it is in each state’s (economic) interest not to spend extra resources on armaments, neglecting to do so in the case that their opponent does so has a significant negative impact.
  • Both parties, working in their own limited self-interest, are worse off in the absence of collaboration than they would be if they could collaborate.

What is “artificial intelligence”?

  • Artificial intelligence (AI) has a known history, as well as a known collection of approaches, goals, methods, techniques, and algorithms. Researchers in artificial intelligence (AI) have continued to investigate numerous mathematical models for expressing issues in computers, as well as methods for discovering effective answers in these models.
  • While their techniques differ, they are all based on the concept that intelligent behavior to solve a problem in a domain can be mathematically described, and that computers can solve problems successfully within those mathematical models.

Al arms race in different aspects:

  • The AI Arms Race as in Economic Competition:
    • The most prominent meaning of the phrase is that there is a race to build the most proficient AI and to transform this into economic domination by seizing markets, users, data, and consumers.
    • Indeed, the current economic battle between Silicon Valley businesses such as Google, Apple, and Facebook, as well as Amazon and Microsoft, to develop AI technology and hire AI experts, may be seen as an example of such an “arms race.”
    • This is a figurative or metaphorical interpretation of “arms race,” as no one is actually producing weapons or fighting in a war. The rivals are mostly firms based in the same nation, and the competition is for markets and earnings.
    • If AI is actually about collecting and analyzing large data, then the true global competition is to suck up all of the data on the planet. And by and large, this refers to user information. If data is the new oil, this global battle for consumers and their data is also a strategic competition between governments for control of the future global economy’s most valuable resource.
  • The AI Arms Race as an Technical Dominance:
    • The widespread impression of a country’s scientific skill, respect, and power has significant political consequences, but it’s impossible to measure or monitor. However, unless it is explicitly applied to military applications or provides economic backing for traditional military build-ups, the economic AI competition has nothing to do with the military, weaponry, or armed conflict.
  • The AI Arms Race- Cyberwarfare and Cybersecurity:
    • Because artificial intelligence is simply software, “AI weapons” will be cyberweapons. As a result, the primary strategic advantage to be sought in AI advancements will be in the cyber domain, where data acquisition and destruction, as well as control of the information infrastructure, will be pursued.
    • As the tools, tactics, and software used in cyberattacks grow more intelligent through the application of AI, they should be able to overcome defenses and have larger consequences.
  • The AI Arms Race as an weaponizing AI for social manipulation:
    • Applying AI to information warfare and propaganda, essentially conducting psychological operations by altering the information environment of mass media, social media, and the internet, is related to the notion of applying AI to cyber warfare assaulting information networks, infrastructure, and data.
    • AI might be used to affect public perception and political action more broadly, as well as the human engineering side of cyber operations.
    • Russia has a history of meddling in elections, and this new collection of tools and platforms, along with cyberattacks, appear to have had a substantial influence on the 2016 presidential election in the United States.
  • The AI Arms Race as an weaponizing AI for conventional warfare:
    • “The goal behind the “AI arms race” is to develop “AI weapons” or weaponize AI for conventional combat. This is also linked to two other major initiatives: the United Nations’ discussions at the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) on the possible regulation of Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems, and the United Nations’ discussions at the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) on the possible regulation of Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS or just AWS).
  • The AI Arms Race as an Third Offset Strategy:
    • The third offset focuses on remote and autonomous platforms, big data and information processing, and information domination. Most of them, including cyber warfare, information warfare, and autonomous platforms, boil down to simply applying software and IT solutions to military planning and operations.
    • AI as a collection of software approaches will play a role, but it’s hard to claim it’ll be more essential than the networks and databases required by the Third Offset, which begs the issue of why this is an “AI arms race” rather than an “IT arms race.”

Impact of AI Arms Race

  • AI research and development that has a direct impact on a state’s ability to wage war.
  • It demonstrates that deploying a conventional bomb with a nEM payload or engaging in swarm warfare, both of which may produce severe devastation comparable to a crude atomic bomb without the associated radiation, will be possible in the near future.
  • Because scientific research and experimentation are collaborative in nature, information may be shared, resulting in a greater spread of conventional weapon technology.
  • As a result, current technical advancements in conventional weapons must be studied, and international safeguards should be considered for innovations that have the potential to do huge harm.


In economic terms, an AI arms race is significantly different from one in military terms. Overinvesting on military applications is probably detrimental if the ultimate objective of governments is economic and political dominance. Furthermore, as IT platforms come to control more data, amass vast economic wealth and political power, and deploy AI to predict and exert greater control over human behavior, the greatest threat to nation-state political hegemony may be the technology companies themselves, rather than other nation-states.

Mains oriented question:

Introduce Artificial Intelligence and its application briefly. Examine how Artificial Intelligence may help India achieve its socioeconomic demands. (200 words)