CHINA Artificial intelligence, Beijing explores ‘cognitive warfare’

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Milan (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The topic of artificial intelligence has emerged forcefully in recent days at the Forum on the Belt and Road Initiative, the event wanted by Chinese President Xi Jinping to celebrate ten years of the “new Silk Road”.

The Forum was an opportunity to harshly criticize the block imposed by US President Joe Biden on the export of advanced technology to the People’s Republic of China.

Moreover it expresses Beijing’s favorable opinion on the establishment of a UN body for the global governance of artificial intelligence applications.

The issue is not only economic but also has a now very obvious military implication: the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is in fact increasingly focused on “intelligent warfare”, developing new military systems based on artificial intelligence and which some experts now call it “cognitive warfare”.

The term refers to operations based on techniques and technologies aimed at influencing the opinions (biases) of one’s adversaries in order to also shape their decisions, thus creating a strategically favorable environment.

“There is an active debate in China about cognitive warfare and how its development could greatly attract Chinese politicians, particularly in helping to achieve victory in Taiwan without the use of conventional weapons,” he commented a few months ago on the site Japan Times Koichiro Takagi, a military information technology expert and member of the Washington-based think tank Hudson Institute.

Moreover, how important artificial intelligence has become for China’s national security and military ambitions outside its borders was underlined by Xi Jinping himself: at the beginning of October, underlining Beijing’s commitment to the development of artificial intelligence and of other cutting-edge technologies, has expressly associated the military field with the civil one.

The US military is also working to integrate artificial intelligence with information processing and unmanned weapons.

However, cognitive warfare would open a new frontier not only in the way of waging war, which a political system like that of the People’s Republic of China, characterized by a rigid control of information, would make even more dangerous: “Cognitive warfare could also unravel via deep fake, or the careful manipulation of videos and images of public opinion in Taiwan,” adds Takagi. And for this to happen, according to the analyst, China would not only have to develop the necessary computer engineering capabilities, but also accumulate a large amount of detailed personal information.

Takagi, who has studied artificial intelligence and data mining, believes that China has already collected a huge amount of data on government officials and ordinary US citizens through several widespread cyberattacks.

In 2015, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the agency that manages the government’s civilian workforce, discovered that some of their personnel files had been breached, including millions of forms containing personal information collected in background checks of people requiring government security clearances, along with fingerprint records of millions of people.

Although no definitive evidence has been found regarding the origin of the perpetrators of the attacks, Washington agencies believe that the hacking was the work of cells working for the Chinese government.

This was not an isolated incident. Five years later, the US Department of Justice announced charges against what it described as four “military-backed Chinese hackers” in connection with a 2017 cyberattack against Equifax, a consumer credit reporting agency. The intrusion led to the largest known theft of personally identifiable information.

Meanwhile, last August the Chinese army said it was working on wearable technology and a “psychological support system through AI” to improve the performance of its soldiers in real combat situations: “People are always the decisive factor in the outcome of a war, and the effective functioning of people depends on the support of a good psychological situation and stable psychological quality,” adds the analyst.

There is therefore also all this behind Washington’s restrictions on the sale of advanced chips for artificial intelligence and supercomputing to China: “These restrictions could be very effective, since it will be extremely difficult for China to replicate China’s semiconductors in the short term high-end products developed both in the United States and in Taiwan,” concludes Takagi.

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