‘This is Not About Me and Google,’ Says Dunford, Who Will Meet Execs Next Week

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford gestures while speaking to reporters during a briefing on a military aircraft before arrival at El Paso International airport in February.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford gestures while speaking to reporters during a briefing on a military aircraft before arrival at El Paso International airport in February. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

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Artificial intelligence businesses in China help an authoritarian government and erode America’s military advantage, the Joint Chiefs chairman said.

Sharpening his warnings to U.S. technology companies, Gen. Joseph Dunford has twice in a week publicly argued that their artificial intelligence work in China is strengthening the ruling Communist Party and eroding America’s military advantage. Next week, the Joint Chiefs chairman says, he’s going to tell Google executives directly.

Last week, Dunford told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Google’s AI venture in China was of “direct benefit” to the People’s Liberation Army. Google defended its work as benign because it does not work directly with China’s military—a premise the Marine general rejected on Thursday.

“We ought not to think that it's just about business when we do business in China,” Dunford said in a rare live interview with CNN’s Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr, at the Atlantic Council in Washington. “Typically if a company does business in China, they are automatically going to be required to have a cell of the Communist Party in that company. And that is going to lead to that intellectual property from that company finding its way to the Chinese military. It is a distinction without a difference between the Chinese Communist Party, the government, and the Chinese military.”

U.S. companies’ cooperation in Chinese AI ventures will do two things, he said: “help an authoritarian government assert control over its own population” and “enable the Chinese military to take advantage” of U.S. technology.

Dunford also revealed that he is scheduled to meet with Google executives to discuss the issue next week.

Though Dunford was careful to say that his warnings apply to all tech companies, Google has become a symbol of a Silicon Valley-Pentagon divide. Even as Google former chairman Eric Schmidt advises the Pentagon and advocates for closer industry-military relations, several thousand Google employees have loudly protested the company’s role in Project Maven, which harnesses artificial intelligence to sort through military surveillance video.

“In my judgment, us assisting the Chinese military in advancing technologically is not in U.S. national interests. And so it's a debate we have to have,” Dunford said. “This is not about me and Google...This is about us looking at the second- and third-order effects of our business ventures in China.”

He noted that China already is using data and AI to find and persecute citizens.

“There's no doubt. Look, six percent of people in China belong to the Chinese Communist Party—6 percent. I think that's an important statistic,” he said. “And what China is able to do is identify patterns of behavior amongst people and determine who's reliable and who's not reliable. And we have seen this manifest in how the Uighurs are treated. And so there is no question in my mind that China will leverage technology to assist the 6 percent of the Chinese population in controlling the other 94 percent.”

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