China, CIA Competing in Silicon Valley

China, CIA Competing in Silicon Valley
According to a technology official, the CIA is being outspent in artificial intelligence funding to research startups at a 100-to-1 pace.

According to a new report, the Chinese government and the CIA are competing to fund high-tech projects, particularly those related to the development of artificial intelligence, which suggests a new "arms race" may already be underway.

The DefenseOne blog reports China is winning that race in a big way, powered by a 100-to-1 investment advantage. The report quotes Charlie Greenbacker, the “technical product leader in artificial intelligence, machine learning, natural language processing, analytics, and data science” at In-Q-Tel, a type of angel investor set up by the CIA to provide funding for projects that are deemed of national security interest.

The tech official said the spy agency is currently interested in projects involving:

  • image recognition— Orbital Insight, a company that analyzes satellite images to discover trends and patterns on a global scale,
  • natural language processing—Primer, a company that sells an AI tool that can read and summarize text—and
  • predictive analytics—Celect, a company that has a predictive analytics engine that can accurately predict retail market trends months in advance, but also accurately predicted the 2014 fall of Ukraine’s pro-Russian government months in advance.

Greenbacker said:

"Our model is to put a little bit of pressure at the right spot to influence a company to make sure it develops things that are useful to our customers," Greenbacker said.

But, he also noted the U.S. intelligence investment is lagging far behind foreign investors, most notably the Chinese government:

"The entire government spent $1.1 billion on unclassified AI programs in 2015. The estimate for 2016 was $1.2 billion. Meanwhile, Softbank [a Japanese multinational conglomerate] has a $100-billion-dollar fund for this. The Chinese government in their most recent five-year-plan has put $150 billion in this."

That’s an area where Congress is already working to shore up gaps that could become significant national security concerns in a hurry. Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) have drafted bipartisan legislation to close loopholes and gaps in the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States review process that would allow China to fund American research that could then be transferred to China and used against U.S. citizens.

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