A senior cybersecurity official at the Pentagon said he resigned in protest because the slow pace of technological development has made it impossible for the United States to compete with China. Nicolas Chaillan, who spent three years as the first chief software officer for the Air Force, said Beijing has a clear advantage in the technological space because of its fast advancements in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and general capabilities in cybersecurity. “We have no competing fighting chance against China in 15 to 20 years. Right now, it’s already a done deal; it is already over in my opinion,” Chaillan told the Financial Times in his first interview since he left his Pentagon job earlier this month. “Whether it takes a war or not is kind of anecdotal.”
In many respects, China is playing in an entirely different league as the United States, Chaillan says, characterizing the cyber defenses in some government agencies as being at “kindergarten level.” Now China is set to dominate the future of the world, controlling media narratives and geopolitics, he added. While the United States continues to spend more money on defense than anyone else, it continues to focus on expensive hardware, such as new fighter jets, rather than emerging technologies that will be far more critical to the future.
One of the reasons China has been able to move much faster than the United States is that it isn’t bogged down in massive debates over AI ethics. But also because Chinese companies are forced to work with the government while many U.S. firms are reluctant to work with the Pentagon. Google, for example, stopped doing artificial intelligence work with the Pentagon in 2018 when a dozen employees quit after the company helped the Department of Defense develop software that could improve the accuracy of drone strikes.
Chaillan had announced his resignation in early September with a LinkedIn post that expressed his frustration at the slow pace of change at the Pentagon and how higher up officials were not willing to make new technologies a real priority. “At this point, I am just tired of continuously chasing support and money to do my job,” Chaillan wrote. Chaillan is hardly the first person to warn about Chinese advances in the emerging technologies. Earlier this year, the National Security Commission warned that the “U.S. government is not prepared to defend the United States in the coming artificial intelligence era” and that China was on track to become the world’s top AI superpower.