February 12, 2018

Chinese Sub Commanders May Get AI Help for Decision-Making

By Elsa B. Kania

What can we learn from a recent news report that China is seeking to develop a nuclear submarine with “AI-augmented brainpower” to give the PLA Navy an “upper hand in battle”?

February 4 piece in the South China Morning Post quotes a “senior scientist involved with the programme” as saying there is a project underway to update the computer systems on PLANnuclear submarines with an AI decision-support system with “its own thoughts” that would reduce commanding officers’ workload and mental burden. The article describes plans for AI to take on “thinking” functions on nuclear subs, which could include, at a basic level, interpreting and answering signals picked up by sonar, through the use of convolutional neural networks.

Given the sensitivity of such a project, it is notable that a researcher working on the program is apparently discussing these issues with an English-language Hong Kong-based newspaper owned by Chinese tech giant Alibaba. That alone suggests that powers-that-be in Beijing intend such a story to receive attention. The release of this information should be considered critically – and might even be characterized as either a deliberate, perhaps ‘deterrent’ signal of China’s advances and/or ‘technological propaganda’ that hypes and overstates current research and development. Necessarily, any analysis based on such sourcing is difficult to confirm – and must thus be caveated heavily.

Read the full article in Defense One.