Note: The Air Force Culture and Language Center is extending its LEAP (Language Enabled Airman Program) spotlight and adding the eMentor series. This series will highlight LEAP scholars, their research, special projects and work in our eMentor courses. This eMentor spotlight features Maj. Richard Uber.
MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. – I joined LEAP in 2011. As a LEAP scholar, I have continued growing and developing in the study of foreign language and culture while advancing in my primary job as an operations research analyst. Through LEAP, I have participated in several e-Mentor classes, including two special projects classes, in which I could practice technical vocabulary related to my professional interests.
I have also participated in three LEAP-sponsored language intensive training events (LITEs). On my first LITE, I worked with the State Dept. at the U.S. Consulate in Shenyang. My second LITE was a three-week advanced area studies course hosted by the East-West Center at Peking University in Beijing. Most recently, I spent one month in 2018 as a visiting scholar at the National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan on an individualized LITE.
As a LEAP scholar, I have included Chinese studies in my professional research as well. Two years ago, I began meeting with other LEAP scholars, engineers and researchers at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base to discuss advanced Chinese technologies in an informal setting. After our first meeting, we decided that our focus would be military applications of artificial intelligence (AI) and met several times to share experiences and perspectives.
To better understand the Chinese perspective on this topic, I tackled U.S.-China competition in AI during an e-Mentor special projects class in the summer of 2019. Throughout this project, I was able to dive deeply into not only policy and strategy documents but also blogs and commentary on the artificial intelligence industry from Chinese sources.
The January 2019 Executive Order on Maintaining American Leadership in Artificial Intelligence directly opposed China’s earlier New-Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan, which called for China to take the lead in AI technologies over the coming decade. Thus, AI is a central issue in the current great power competition.
Motivated by this strategic challenge, my research project looked at specific technology and innovation goals laid out in China’s 13th Five-Year Plan, overarching goals of the U.S. and Chinese AI strategies, and current indicators of strength in academic research and talent retention for AI. Overall, I found that China is on track to meet many of its near-term strategic aims, but the U.S. still leads the field in top-tier research and talent.
As an Airman, I was especially interested in the defense-focused applications of AI. I surveyed various aspects of autonomous platforms (land-, air-, and sea-based), information processing, self (or base) defense, enhanced command and control and decision support, and overcoming physical limitations on human skills and knowledge. The potential military advantage of these systems, once mature, is a current and ongoing topic of debate.
Not only are machines capable of super-human accomplishments, but they are also capable of making inhuman mistakes. Nevertheless, the complex challenges inherent in future conflicts will necessitate AI applications in combat, command and control, intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance, and logistics.
Last fall, I began a research fellowship at the National Intelligence University, where I am focused primarily on the Chinese AI ecosystem. Using my background in language and culture, coupled with my education in science and technology, I am sketching out a comprehensive picture of the numerous factors necessary for building advanced, AI-enabled systems. These include not just the technology industry, but also manpower, education, policy, doctrine, and culture.
My special projects course laid the foundation for this year-long research project and provided a jump-start on understanding the Chinese views on AI and innovation.
I will be presenting a short summary of the research from the special projects course and following year-long NIU research fellowship at this year’s Air University Language, Regional Expertise and Culture Virtual Symposium.
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