China and the United States are engaged in a tight race for the leadership in artificial intelligence weaponisation. This is a sphere that's all too crucial as the country that gains the upper hand in the weaponisation of artificial intelligence will control the world for many decades.

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper has said the Pentagon is scrambling to avoid ceding space and leadership to arch-rival China. The Asian nation obviously had the leg up as it has been funnelling fund into artificial intelligence even as US investment has been lagging.

An upper hand in building military artificial intelligence systems will decide who controls the world. Esper acknowledges that China is aiming to become the world leader in AI by 2030. Under President Xi Jinping's plan, China should obtain "the high ground in critical and core AI technologies."

"Whichever nation harnesses AI first will have a decisive advantage on the battlefield for many, many years ... We have to get there first. Future wars will be fought not just on the land and in the sea as they have for thousands of years, or in the air as they have for the past century, but also in outer space and cyberspace in unprecedented ways," Esper said at a conference on artificial intelligence, Asia Times reported.

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China has made great strides in this sector. Esper said China's People's Liberation Army is moving aggressively to deploy them across many warfighting domains.

What is AI weapon system?

From autonomous cars to drones the era of artificial intelligence is here to stay. The next big thing is AI in warfare. A lot of air defence systems currently in use have substantial autonomy when it comes to the targeting process. It is believed that further advances in this tech will herald the "third revolution in warfare. AI advocates say artificial intelligence military tools will help armies boost their speed and stealth functions drastically. I will also help add new military capabilities besides helping in training of the personnel.

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What does this mean in plain English?

In popular parlance, AI weapons are 'killer robots.' One basic example at the moment is the swarming drones, the unmanned aircraft that can be deployed in hordes to catch the enemy unawares and cause instant loss of lives in huge swathes of the enemy field. The future wars will be fought using AI weapon suits that will see practically little human oversight.

What are some ongoing projects?

Britain is developing the Taranis drone, which is an unmanned combat aerial vehicle. It is likely to be operational by 2030. The Taranis drone will replace the human-piloted Tornado GR4 fighter planes which now serve in the Royal Air Force.

The US and Russia are making robotic tanks that can penetrate hostile terrain while being remote-controlled. Moscow is also creating AI-driven missiles that switch targets mid-flight. In Israel, the military is developing the anti-radar "fire and forget" drone. This unmanned system fired by AI will identify and destroy enemy targets based on a pre-written program.

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YouTube: Secureteam10

Are AI weapons morally right?

The debate on it is going on. While most developed nations believe that AI weapons can be beneficial, the idea has not got much traction in the developing world. The US, Germany, China. Russia, UK, South Korea and Australia have all embraced Ai weapons programmes.

However, threes no consensus, neither a universal code, on the moral and legal aspects of the autonomous weapons. The organisation Campaign to Stop Killer Robots says humans won't call the shots in a future war if machines become fully autonomous. For example the 'Kalashnikov's machine guns with neural net and combat module are equipped with a camera and machine gun, while Artificial Intelligence decides what the target is.

Will rogue states get AI weapons?

Most certainly yes, believe the critics. Rogue states and terrorists "will get their hands on lethal artificial intelligence in the very near future," experts told the UK House of Lords Artificial Intelligence Committee. Alvin Wilby, vice president of research at Thales, a French defense firm, said keeping Ai entirely out of the hands of rogue states is a daunting task.