China Is Building a Fleet of Autonomous AI

China Is Building a Fleet of Autonomous AI

A fleet of autonomous, AI-powered submarines is headed into hotly-contested Asian waterways. The vehicles will belong to the Chinese armed forces, and their mission capabilities are likely to raise concerned eyebrows in surrounding countries. If all goes to plan, the first submarines will launch in 2020.

The onboard AI systems will be tasked with making decisions on course and depth to avoid detection as well as identifying any craft they come across. One area that has caused some concern is whether the submarines’ AI systems are being designed to not seek input during the course of a mission. In other words, if they will be left to make decisions such as whom to attack.

While there is some light to be had trying to find a name for the submarines’ capabilities (self-swimming?), China’s neighbors will likely be anything but amused by the news. The subs will likely patrol areas in the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean. Both are contested waters where China and countries like Japan and Vietnam disagree as to who holds the rights to various resource-rich areas and islands.

Recently, the Chinese military created artificial islands in the area to use as military bases. The country’s robotic submarines could be seen as a further escalation of the situation. Regional unease may be intensified by the fact that AI vessels would be able to learn from similar craft.

In other words, the submarines would be able to engage in continuous strategic adjustment and development, should they come to be deployed in a conflict.