12:39 GMT23 January 2021
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    Beijing is making great strides in developing artificial intelligence (AI). China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs is reportedly exploring the use of AI in diplomacy. Speaking to Radio Sputnik, Professor Toby Walsh, a leading AI expert from the University of New South Wales, shared his views on the US-China competition in the field.

    Sputnik: Please tell us of the possible use of artificial intelligence in Chinese diplomacy. What kind of assistance can it provide?

    Toby Walsh: It's just offering policy suggestions and recommendations. At present it's not actually making decisions and it's taking in a wealth of information and providing some suggestions to the diplomats.

    Sputnik: Would you say that using AI to evaluate the geopolitical environment is more effective than using human analysis?

    Toby Walsh: It's certainly an interesting use of artificial intelligence; we shouldn't be, perhaps, too surprised. Business has been using artificial intelligence; those hedge funds that use satellite imagery to help them make decisions, to predict what profits the company is going to be making. It's not surprising that government is catching to what business is already doing.

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    Sputnik: What kind of information will the artificial intelligence collect and analyze?

    Toby Walsh: They claim that they are taking in information from a wide variety of sources: publicly available data, even gossip that they are collecting in the diplomatic cocktail party circuits, and satellite imagery. There is a lot of information that you can gleam about what is going on in a foreign country from spy satellites: you can work out how trade is going by measuring how occupied the car parks are and supermarkets, you can watch the trucks as they leave factories and the containers unload off ships. There's a lot that you can tell about another country by watching it from afar.

    READ MORE: Speak Softly and Carry a Big Processor: China to Soon Conduct Diplomacy With AI

    Sputnik: Do you think that Beijing will be able to achieve its declared ambition to equal the United States in its AI capability by 2020?

    Toby Walsh: I am very confident it will, I mean they are already making very good strides. In the last ten years they have come from being almost not a player at all, if you would look at what China's researchers were doing in AI — they were barely registering at all. Now we see at AI conferences that the largest country represented is China; they have surpassed the United States. Perhaps, they are still catching up a little bit on the quality, but certainly if we look at the quantity of research coming out, the amount of money being thrown at the field, the number of patents, the amount of activity going on in China, they are well on the way to being world-leading by 2020. So, yes, we should be very interested and concerned about this possibility.

    READ MORE: Pentagon to Spend $885Mln on AI to Compete With Russia, China — Reports

    Sputnik: How would the United States and Russia respond to China's initiative?

    Toby Walsh: That's one of the interesting things. China has got a very ambitious AI plan. It's aiming to have both economic and military dominance by the use of artificial intelligence within its economy. The US, at the moment, is still lacking really a plan. The White House Office of Science and Technology back in the administration of Obama, wrote a preliminary plan but, unfortunately, Trump has been rather asleep and that's fallen by the wayside. Really, the US is now playing a game of catch-up and it's going to be quite a challenge. There is a lot of money being invested by the Chinese; they're talking hundreds of billions of dollars, eventually.

    Toby Walsh is the author of the book "It's Alive: Artificial Intelligence from the Logic Piano to Killer Robots".

    The views and opinions expressed by Toby Walsh are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik. 

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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