One of the Pentagon’s top acquisition officials believes that the United States military is currently on the sidelines of an ongoing artificial intelligence arms race between global powers such as Russia and China.

“There might be an artificial intelligence arms race, but we’re not yet in it,” Dr. Michael Griffin, the under secretary of defense for research and engineering, said April 9 at the Future Wars conference held in Washington, D.C.

“Our adversaries understand very well the possible future utility of machine learning,” Griffin continued. “I think it’s time we did as well.”

Griffin’s comments echo some of the language written into the new National Defense Strategy revealed earlier this year. The strategy prioritizes maintaining a military advantage over Russia and China and calls for the Pentagon to increase investment in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence.

The National Defense Strategy also calls for reforming the business and acquisition practices within the Defense Department, which Griffin described at the conference as outdated.

When the current acquisition system was designed, the United States’ technological advantage was largely uncontested, Griffin said. This allowed the Pentagon to engage in a lengthy acquisition process with no risk of a serious challenge from adversaries. However, those defense acquisition practices now put the country at a serious disadvantage.

“If the decision is [between] how can I be fair to everyone rather than [do] what’s best, we’ll always be behind,” Griffin said. “We can either maintain this process or maintain preeminence, but we probably can’t do both.”

Fueling these concerns is the fact that China’s government, unconstrained by such bureaucratic processes, has been particularly focused on developing artificial intelligence. The Chinese state council recently issued a well-funded national strategy designed to harness the power of artificial intelligence with the goal of making the nation “the world’s primary AI innovation center” by 2030.

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