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Driven in part by the ongoing competition between global superpowers, including the United States and China, as they engage in an escalating tech war, the global artificial intelligence (AI) market will reportedly be worth $908.7 billion in 2030, registering a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 35.2% from $81.3 billion in 2022.

GlobalData claimed that this shows AI's role in shaping the countries' wider social, economic, political and military policies.

The data and analytics company's report, 'Artificial Intelligence in Defense,’ also revealed several AI initiatives run by militaries and defense suppliers globally, including the US Air Force, BAE Systems and Raytheon Technologies. Rapid progress in AI has made it a key battleground technology for countries like the US and China.

In August 2022, the US passed the CHIPS and Science Act, which includes measures designed to limit China's access to US chip manufacturing technology. Further export restrictions were also announced in October 2022 to prevent the export of US semiconductors to China. In response, in July 2023, China enacted export controls on gallium and germanium, rare earth elements crucial to manufacturing semiconductors and solar cells.

Associate Analyst, Thematic Intelligence at GlobalData, Benjamin Chin, commented, "Public interest in AI has surged since the release of OpenAI's ChatGPT in November 2022, though it has been part of military strategies for decades. AI can automate and enhance all aspects of modern warfare, including training and simulation, intelligence gathering, electronic warfare and frontline service.

"The US and China are currently engaged in a blow-for-blow exchange as they each try to limit the other's access to materials and technology associated with AI research and development (R&D). The escalation of the US-China tech war demonstrates how crucial AI is to global superpowers' political, economic and military strategies," he added.

Ethical and cultural challenges persistently threaten military AI. In 2018, both the US and Russia blocked UN talks on banning the use of lethal autonomous weapons (LAWs). Meanwhile, in 2021, the US, Russia, India and Israel blocked further UN talks to ban the use of LAWs. AI integration presents a lot of ethical challenges across the defense sector — from humanitarian to regulatory concerns raised by LAWs and disinformation. These issues raise serious questions about the use of AI within the military and what regulations governments should implement for its development or restrain its employment.

Chin concluded, "The prospect of integrating advanced AI into the military raises serious ethical questions among many, and rightly so. Military powers have time and again demonstrated interest in handing more control over multi-million-dollar weapons platforms to AI. In such instances, there is particular concern over autonomous systems' ability to positively identify, target and eliminate perceived hostile threats without human oversight. However, as with any military technology, the prospect of falling behind other countries may force militaries to integrate AI despite the ethical concerns."

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