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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

On the heels of a sweeping new U.S. plan to retain dominance in artificial intelligence, the Pentagon has cast Chinese development of intelligent weapons as an existential threat to the international order.

A day after the release of an executive order by President Trump that omits naming China, the Defense Department, in a new AI strategy document, speaks in stark terms of a "destabilizing" Chinese threat.

"Failure to adopt AI will result in legacy systems irrelevant to the defense of our people, eroding cohesion among allies and partners, reduced access to markets that will contribute to a decline in our prosperity and standard of living, and growing challenges to societies that have been built upon individual freedoms."
— DOD 2018 AI Strategy Summary

The bottom line: The new document, a public summary of a classified strategy developed last year, calls for the Pentagon to realign itself drastically.

  • Sounding at times like a startup pitch deck, the DOD paper promises to deploy AI "rapidly" and "iteratively," and to enable "decentralized development and experimentation."
  • But, but, but: This realignment is a tall order. The Pentagon is not an agile software team but an enormous, slow-moving beast, hobbled with the inertia of outdated technologies and strategies, as we reported last week.

"There remains an obvious tension between the deliberate and sometimes slow processes required to develop ethical principles for AI’s use in military contexts and the kind of rapid iteration and experimentation with 'forward edge' technologies that the strategy also champions," says Charlotte Stanton, a fellow in technology and international affairs at the Carnegie Endowment.

Silicon Valley, not just the old-school military-industrial complex, is a vital audience for the document.

  • Working with tech companies and startups is essential to the military's AI strategy, says Larry Lewis, director of the Center for Autonomy and AI at CNA, a research organization.
  • The document hits all the notes to make tech workers less wary of working with the Pentagon, like ethics, safety and transparency.
  • "It's coming out with a very strong stance saying there are virtuous uses of AI" in war, says Lewis — including to reduce civilian casualties.

A major challenge for the DOD's strategy will be to develop a plan that works with allies, Stanton and Lewis say.

What's next: Forthcoming ethical guidelines from the Pentagon for military use of AI.

Go deeper

Updated 18 mins ago - Science

China launches first astronauts to new space station

The manned Shenzhou-12 spacecraft from China's Manned Space Agency onboard the Long March-2F rocket launches at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Jiuquan, Gansu province, China, on Thursday morning Beijing time. Photo: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

China's Shenzhou 12 mission carrying three astronauts launched into orbit on Thursday morning Beijing time.

Why it matters: Astronauts Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo are set to occupy China's new space station. This will be the country's longest crewed space mission ever and the first in almost five years.

Biden's two-step negotiating process

President Biden departs Geneva. Photo: Martial Trezzini/Pool/AFP via Getty

President Biden's summit "reset" was less about trying to make a friend out of Russia than reframing what the U.S. believes can be accomplished by engaging with President Vladimir Putin.

Driving the news: The Geneva meeting yielded no immediate breakthroughs beyond agreements about ambassadors returning to work and plans to launch talks on nuclear security. But in classic Biden fashion — aviators on, jacket off and a one-liner about invading Russia he had to clarify was a joke — the U.S. president used a post-summit news conference to explain his approach.

Scoop: NRCC to accept cryptocurrency donations

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Republicans' House campaign arm will begin accepting contributions in cryptocurrency, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The National Republican Congressional Committee is the first national party committee to solicit crypto donations. That puts it at the forefront of a disruptive financial technology that could test campaign finance rules.