The AI Column: How To Think About China, Silicon Valley And CFIUS

The Long March
SOFWERX hosted a Cyber Capability Expo at their newest facility in Tampa, Fla., Oct. 19, 2017.
U.S. Air Force/Master Sgt. Barry Loo

This month, Congress is debating the latest version of the National Defense Authorization Act. One of the most difficult defense issues on the table has nothing to do with new weapons systems, force structure or personnel. The bill includes a plan for changing the interagency process for vetting foreign investment and reforms to the Committee for Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). CFIUS reviews and can stop foreign investment in what are deemed to be critical industries to national security. CFIUS has come under increasing scrutiny as China has invested heavily in the U.S. tech sector and many fear are attempting to buy or steal the crown jewels of U.S. technology

The tech world has bristled at the expansion of CFIUS. China has deep pockets and has thrown money at many budding Artificial Intelligence startups. China has aspirations to lead the world in AI, robotics, and aerospace; and has invested heavily in those areas. However, Chinese investment in the U.S. in the first half of 2018 have dropped 90% compared to the same period in 2017. Some of this is due to CFIUS and some of this is a reflection of the budding trade war that the Trump administration has hinted about since the campaign.

China is a dream market for tech start-ups. Its size and growing affluence make it hard to ignore. While Europe has led the way in new digital privacy and “right to be forgotten” laws, China has gone in the opposite direction, centralizing their internet and giving their tech titans access to some of the largest data sets in the world. And, as new Artificial Intelligence applications depend on access to larger and larger data sets, “Data is the new oil” has become the new, trendy tech maxim.

Some national security experts think that CFIUS has not gone far enough. Senator Marco Rubio is one of the loudest voices opposing the Trump administration’s lifting a seven-year ban on Chinese telecom ZTE from selling in the US. The Commerce Department imposed the ban after the intelligence community raised concerns about ZTE installing backdoors in its phone’s security to more easily allow Chinese hackers to spy on them. The Commerce Department choose to waive the ban in exchange for a $1.4 billion fine and sacking the firm’s leadership.

Former Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work has gone farther, criticizing Google for pulling out of recent DARPA AI project citing ethical concerns while expanding its presence in China. “Google has a center in China, where they have a concept called civil-military fusion,” he said. “Anything that’s going on in that center is going to be used by the military.” China has combined its lack of privacy laws and its newfound acumen in big data and AI to spy on its people, stifle dissent, and oppress its ethnic minorities in its Western provinces.

All technological advantages are fleeting and vulnerable. The Global Positioning System originally only offered selective availability to the civilian world to prevent our enemies from using it against us. When the signal was unscrambled in 2000, what was a niche military technology became a ubiquitous commercial technology. This made it both possible and practical to put a GPS device in every pocket and gave us disruptive, hyper-localized systems like Yelp, Uber, and Tinder.

While the decision to unscramble the signal was wise, it was almost fait accompli. The Russian government was developing a similar satellite system that could have guided their ICBMs to our cities if they hadn’t already cracked our encryption. On balance, developing the GPS system gave us both a temporary military advantage and a more substantive technological and economic advantage that we still enjoy today.

The challenge for CFIUS is knowing how and what to protect. Trying to defend all American intellectual property is a fool’s errand. Expanding the definition of “critical industries” to include these new technologies is undoubtedly wise.

However, too many restrictions might not only harm our businesses but also deny the world the progress that AI promises. It also makes the hubristic assumption that the U.S. will continue to maintain its lead in the AI world and that Chinese advances won’t bleed over into the U.S. as well. We must hope that they choose their battles wisely.

‘Mal Ware’ is the nom de guerre of someone who was fighting in the AI wars before you even knew there was one.

An aerial view of the Pentagon building in Washington, June 15, 2005. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld defended the Guantanamo prison against critics who want it closed by saying U.S. taxpayers have a big financial stake in it and no other facility could replace it at a Pentagon briefing on Tuesday. (Reuters/Jason Reed JIR/CN)

Senior defense officials offered a wide range of excuses to reporters on Wednesday about why they may not comply with a subpoena from House Democrats for documents related to the ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

On Oct. 7, lawmakers subpoenaed information about military aid to Ukraine. Eight days later, a Pentagon official told them to pound sand in part because many of the documents requested are communications with the White House that are protected by executive privilege.

Read More Show Less

Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) will announce legislation Wednesday aiming to "fix" a new Trump administration citizenship policy that affects some children of U.S. service members stationed abroad.

Read More Show Less

The video opens innocently enough. A bell sounds as we gaze onto a U.S. Navy frigate, safely docked at port at Naval Base San Diego. A cadre of sailors, dressed in "crackerjack" style enlisted dress uniforms and hauling duffel bags over their shoulders, stride up a gangplank aboard the vessel. The officer on deck greets them with a blast of a boatswain's call. It could be the opening scene of a recruitment video for the greatest naval force on the planet.

Then the rhythmic clapping begins.

This is no recruitment video. It's 'In The Navy,' the legendary 1979 hit from disco queens The Village People, shot aboard the very real Knox-class USS Reasoner (FF-1063) frigate. And one of those five Navy sailors who strode up that gangplank during filming was Ronald Beck, at the time a legal yeoman and witness to one of the strangest collisions between the U.S. military and pop culture of the 20th century.

"They picked the ship and they picked us, I don't know why," Beck, who left the Navy in 1982, told Task & Purpose in a phone interview from his Texas home in October. "I was just lucky to be one of 'em picked."

Read More Show Less

Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Tuesday casually brushed aside the disturbing news that, holy shit, MORE THAN 100 ISIS FIGHTERS HAVE ESCAPED FROM JAIL.

In an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Esper essentially turned this fact into a positive, no doubt impressing public relations and political talking heads everywhere with some truly masterful spin.

"Of the 11,000 or so detainees that were imprisoned in northeast Syria, we've only had reports that a little more than a hundred have escaped," Esper said, adding that the Syrian Democratic Forces were continuing to guard prisons, and the Pentagon had not "seen this big prison break that we all expected."

Well, I feel better. How about you?

On Wednesday, the top U.S. envoy in charge of the global coalition to defeat ISIS said much the same, while adding another cherry on top: The United States has no idea where those 100+ fighters went.

"We do not know where they are," James Jeffrey told members of Congress of the 100+ escaped detainees. ISIS has about 18,000 "members" left in Iraq and Syria, according to recent Pentagon estimates.

A senior administration official told reporters on Wednesday the White House's understanding is that the SDF continues to keep the "vast majority" of ISIS fighters under "lock and key."

"It's obviously a fluid situation on the ground that we're monitoring closely," the official said, adding that released fighters will be "hunted down and recaptured." The official said it was Turkey's responsibility to do so.

President Trump expressed optimism on Wednesday about what was happening on the ground in northeast Syria, when he announced that a ceasefire between Turkey and the Kurds was expected to be made permanent.

"Turkey, Syria, and all forms of the Kurds have been fighting for centuries," Trump said. "We have done them a great service and we've done a great job for all of them — and now we're getting out."

The president boasted that the U.S.-brokered ceasefire had saved the lives of tens of thousands of Kurds "without spilling one drop of American blood."

Trump said that "small number of U.S. troops" would remain in Syria to protect oilfields.

Kade Kurita (U.S. Army photo(

Kade Kurita, the 20-year-old West Point cadet who had been missing since Friday evening, was found dead on Tuesday night, the U.S. Military Academy announced early Wednesday morning.

"We are grieving this loss and our thoughts and prayers go out to Cadet Kurita's family and friends," Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, superintendent of West Point, said in the release.

Read More Show Less