As the world continues to evolve, so does the nature of warfare. China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is increasingly focused on “Cognitive Warfare,” a term referring to artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled military systems and operational concepts. The PLA’s exploration into this new domain of warfare could potentially change the dynamics of global conflict.

The PLA’s interest in “cognitive warfare” is particularly intriguing. Cognitive warfare refers to operations that leverage techniques and technologies such as AI to influence the minds of adversaries, shape their decisions, and create a strategically favorable environment. This approach could potentially allow China to achieve victory without resorting to conventional weapons. We’re talking social engineering at potential massive scale.

The PLA’s exploration into cognitive warfare is part of China’s broader commitment to AI and other cutting-edge technologies, as emphasized by President Xi Jinping. China aims to become the world’s leading AI power by 2030, and it is integrating AI into three common areas: information processing, unmanned weapons, and decision-making.

However, China is taking it a step further by exploring the use of AI in cognitive warfare. This involves influencing the thinking of decision-makers, military commanders, and the general public in rival countries. For instance, Beijing could use social media and other means to spread disinformation, manipulate public opinion, and discredit U.S. efforts to support Taiwan.

To achieve this, China would need to develop the necessary cyber, psychological, and social engineering capabilities. It would also need to amass a great deal of detailed personal information. There are concerns that China has already collected a massive amount of data on government officials and ordinary U.S. citizens, which could be used to influence perceptions.

The PLA is also focusing on using AI to influence the state of mind of its own troops. They are working on wearable technology and a “psychological support system” to better prepare soldiers for real combat situations. This includes smart sensor bracelets that can record facial information and judge psychological states in real time.

Whether or not China’s “AI-driven warfare” succeeds, it is crucial to pay attention to social engineering at massive scale, as it has become increasingly feasible thanks to recent breakneck advances.