The two men posing for photographs in a Nanjing conference room could not have more different backgrounds. On one side was Mao Yongqing, head of the 28th Research Institute of China Electronics Technology Group Corp. (CETC), which develops electronic warfare technology for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). On the other was Yin Shiming, vice president of cloud computing at Baidu, one of China’s privately owned internet groups.
Mao is one of a small group of state cadres entrusted by China’s leader Xi Jinping with pushing the military into the era of artificial intelligence. Yin is an engineer who built his expertise at some of the most important Western tech companies, including Apple. But at the ceremony this year, the two men smiled and lifted a red silk scarf to unveil a bronze plaque that declared CETC and Baidu to be partners in a “joint lab for intelligent command and control technology” — the facilities that are used to direct military operations.
Mao lauded the deal as an implementation of “military-civil fusion,” an instruction by the Chinese Communist Party that new technologies developed by the private sector must be shared with the military, which Xi had written into the constitution last year. Yin said CETC and Baidu should “work hand in hand to link up computing, data and logic resources to further advance the application of new-generation AI technologies in the area of defense.”
The Chinese drive for this form of military-civil fusion is the source of nightmares for Western governments and one of the motivations for the increasingly confrontational approach U.S. President Donald Trump is taking toward China.
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