Artificial Intelligence (AI) has emerged as the future of human innovation and technology. It is likely that AI will integrate into all sectors of the economy and polity within its fold and will influence the way man thinks and perceives the world and the universe at different levels. It is important to note here that countries with a background in AI will emerge as rule makers in the future and will profess an edge over others i.e. countries that possess knowledge of AI will spearhead changes in the international comity of states and dominate global politics.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) therefore possesses the potential to be the raison d’être of human existence. The comity of international states has woken up to this new reality and is taking quick cognizance of this fact. While the United States and China have already taken a lead in this battle for supremacy in the field of AI, Europe and the rest of “the world is catching up” much like the “catching-up” that Russia attempted to do after the Industrial Revolution in Britain in 1750s. The AI revolution is witnessing a similar trend. US and China are leading the race followed by the United Kingdom, Israel, Japan, South Korea and Russia.
AI and geopolitics
AI and its impact on geopolitics can be assessed at multiple levels. It will, simply put, have an impact on all aspects of human life. AI will be used to prevent natural hazards and calamities, it will be used to influence stock exchange rates, mobility of markets, control malpractices in elections etc. Its usage in the world will be multidimensional and all pervasive making it the “tool of the future” for states who want to have a standing in the world of international politics. AI will be the tool that will ‘re-write the rules of the game’.
The significance of AI can be gauged from the report published by Brookings that talks about a “data revolution” which will essentially permeate each and every sector of the global economy. In this context one can look at an interesting study that looks at AI and geopolitics relates to understanding the nature of the Colombian Amazon which is now accessible and available for academic research after the guerrilla group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Columbia reached a peace deal with the authorities. This is a good example to assess how science and conflict studies and International Relations can converge with commensurate ease.This example also enables us to understand the inherent link between AI and geopolitics.
Similarly, the battle between the United States and China in the cyber realm further amplifies the relevance of AI for nation states. Though the United States has always been the leader in technology and innovation, Chinese smart power is posing an enormous challenge to the US. The United States is belligerent and with companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple taking the initiative, it is trying to hold on to its coveted lead in this battle for technological supremacy. A cursory look at the Google website and one is able to get valuable information on the nature of research that the company is investing in through the use of AI. At the same time, China is not far behind and is using AI more brazenly. Chinese companies like Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent (collectively referred to as BAT) are willing to go to any extent to make hay while the sun shines and take the AI revolution to the next level. For example, Alibaba has attempted to promote digitization to such an extent that only those e-commerce firms who embrace digitization in the long run will survive, while the others will perish. Alibaba is the largest Research and Development (R&D) investor in China and it is now tying up with Sensetime the world’s highest-valued AI startup, to launch a not-for-profit artificial intelligence lab in Hong Kong in a bid to make the city a global hub for artificial intelligence. This is an interesting development within the geopolitical space because it further tightens Chinese control over HongKong as well. China it must not be forgotten is a panopticon state and AI gives the Chinese government an opportunity to further tighten its grip over the Chinese people. This fact is substantiated by a Forbes report that looks at the rising levels of surveillance in China.
Therefore, lets not forget that though the AI revolution is real and its impact is larger-than-life, governments all over the world also need to walk the tightrope with caution. Though it is clear that a country’s geopolitical strength in the middle of the 21st century will be intertwined with its AI strength as pointed out by a Brookings Report, the indiscriminate use of AI may pose a threat to nations as well. While the human race may be completely wiped out due to the indiscriminate use of AI, where machines may outwit man, as pointed out by the Late Stephen Hawkins, the propagation of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) is a worrying development for nations states. The proliferation of data has its benefits but a line needs to be drawn at some point. The question remains where that fine line will originate? In the end, we can only conclude by saying that sates need to address this pressing issue with cautious optimism.
This piece is written by Anuttama Banerji. Anuttama is Associate Researcher at Govern.