Chinese balloon is runaway airship, guided by AI

The mystery on the Chinese spy balloon is over.

China has burst the bubble on what the United States described as a spy balloon sent by Beijing to peek at its missile silos while an American expert speculated on the sophistication of the flying object.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson brushed aside US reports that the balloon spotted flying over Montana on Thursday is spying saying it owned the weather research airship that veered off course due to wind.

“The airship is from China. It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes,” the spokesperson said, according to Agence France-Presse.

“The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace due to force majeure,” the spokesperson added.

The Pentagon has ruled out shooting down the balloon heading eastwards over the central US for safety reasons.

Pentagon spokesperson Pat Ryder also revealed Friday that a similar balloon was seen transiting Latin America.

Intelligent balloon

Meanwhile, William Kim, a specialist in surveillance balloons at the Marathon Initiative think tank in Washington, told AFP that the airship’s electronics for guidance and collecting information are powered by large solar panels and the US does not have its advanced steering technologies.

“Artificial intelligence has made it possible for a balloon, just by reading the changes in the air around it, to adjust its altitude to guide it where it wants to go,” Kim added, according to AFP.

“Before you either had to have a tether… or you just send it up and it just goes wherever the wind takes it,” he said.

“What’s happened very recently with advances in AI is that you can have a balloon that… doesn’t need its own motion system. Merely by adjusting the altitude it can control its direction.”

That could also involve radio communications from its home base, he added.

However, Kim said if the balloon is trying to monitor missile silos, its software “wouldn’t necessarily need to tell it to adjust its location.”

The expert added that earth and space, balloons don’t easily show up on radars and can stop over a surveillance target.


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