Top Department of Defense (DoD) officials told lawmakers during a House Armed Services subcommittee hearing last week that the U.S. needs to keep improving its capabilities in machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), and cybersecurity in order to maintain its current strategic advantage over other major nation-states.

Gen. Paul Nakasone, Commander of U.S. Cyber Command, said that the U.S. has made significant strides in staying ahead in the cyberspace competition, but it needs to continue making progress because adversaries including China and Russia continue to develop and execute more advanced cyberattacks.

“The United States must keep improving its capabilities in this area,” Nakasone said at a March 30 hearing of the Armed Services Cyber, Information Systems, and Innovation Subcommittee.

Nakasone also warned about the negative effects of pausing further AI developments – something that some top private sector tech officials have pushed for in a recent letter that cites their fears that advanced AI may pose a threat to humanity.

Twitter CEO Elon Musk is among those who want the training of AI systems above a certain capacity to be halted for at least six months. Apple Co-Founder Steve Wozniak and some researchers at DeepMind also signed onto the letter created by the Future of Life Institute.

The letter calls on “all AI labs to immediately pause for at least 6 months the training of AI systems more powerful than GPT-4.”

“[AI ML] is resonant today and is something that our adversaries are going to continue to look to exploit,” said Nakasone. He added that U.S. military forces now have a “tenuous” advantage over China in the realm of AI that would fray if private sector AI leaders halted development of their systems.

John Plumb, principal cyber advisor to the Secretary of Defense and assistant secretary of Defense for Space Policy at the DoD, also warned lawmakers that China represents the Pentagon’s primary “pacing” challenge, and that Russia remains an acute threat.

“Since 2018, the Department has recognized that it is not enough to maintain a defensive posture while preparing for conflict, but that it must defend forward to meet adversaries and disrupt their efforts and competition, that is the daily struggle,” Plumb said.

Today, Plumb explained, the DoD campaigns in and through cyberspace to sow doubt among competitors; conducts intelligence-driven hunt forward operations to generate insights into our competitors’ tactics, techniques, and procedures while defending U.S. Allies and partner computer networks; and disrupts malicious cyber actors through offensive cyber operations.

Plumb also emphasized how the President’s Fiscal Year 2024 budget will enhance DoD cybersecurity, increase capacity for cyberspace operations, and advance research and development activities for new cyber capabilities.

“These resources will go directly to supporting our cyber mission forces, protecting the homeland, and addressing the threats posed by our adversaries in cyberspace,” Plumb said.

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.