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Artificial Intelligence Upending Geopolitics


18 min read

Technology has always been used by geopolitical entities to advance their goals. Artificial Intelligence, unlike other technologies, is not just a mere tool. The purpose is not to state or suggest that AI has intentions of its own as it is not a moral agent, yet. However, it is swiftly becoming a determining factor of our collective destiny. Due to the unique features and characteristics of Artificial Intelligence across several fields, it is also posing itself as a threat to the basis of global peace and security. This blog analyzes the intertwined association between global politics and the technology sector. 

In view of the rapid rate of technological advancement, coupled with the range of novel applications, Artificial Intelligence systems are now widely deployed without sufficient consideration of the ethical impacts. This lapse in judgment and evaluation has left executive and legislative branches unable to cope, especially since this is a pacing problem. 

It’s difficult to foresee the impacts of new technologies in the world. For example, social media has been integrated into daily life for a long time because its potential for misuse could be fully understood and appreciated. Similarly, it has taken time to realize the implications of facial recognition technology on human rights and privacy policies and concerns.

Some countries have adopted the process of deploying Artificial Intelligence to manipulate public opinion. They do this by determining the information people get to see and then utilizing surveillance to restrict freedom of expression. However, looking ahead, there is little known about which research is exploring challenges that will possibly lead to innovation and how these innovations end up reacting to the environment and with each other.

It is often difficult to determine the reason when undesirable effects come to light, especially in the case of Artificial Intelligence. This is because systems that constantly learn, adapt, and change their behavior are unable to be constantly certified and tested for safety. 

Artificial Intelligence-based systems can function with little to no human intervention. The issue with autonomous systems is that they undermine the principle of always having an agent present, human or corporate, that can be responsible for measurable actions carried out by that system, especially when it comes to matters such as war and peace. It is impossible to hold these systems to account and those who deploy these systems will always argue that they cannot be responsible if the system acts in unpredictable ways.

To summarize, our societies are not equipped politically, legally or ethically to take on Artificial Intelligence. AI will definitely transform geopolitics and international relations. Here are three ways in which this could happen. 

Artificial Intelligence will cause a shift in the balance of power between nations

Geopolitical power has always been shaped by technology. For instance, in the early 20th century, international order was dictated by industrial capabilities such as airplanes. Later on, the supply and control of natural gas and oil became more relevant to this order. 

Major powers across the world are aware of the massive potential of AI to promote their respective national agendas. For example, Russia’s Vladimir Putin is known for telling a group of school children: “whoever becomes the leader (in AI) will become the ruler of the world.” Currently, the United States leads the world in Artificial Intelligence. However, China’s technological innovation is progressing rapidly and is superior in specific areas of research and development such as facial recognition software. 

The domination of Artificial Intelligence by these major powers will contribute to new forms of inequality and promote current structural inequalities. Those countries which lack access to the internet are dependent on weather nations and will be left behind in the power struggle. Employment patterns will be empowered by Artificial Intelligence-led automation in ways that benefit some national economies more than others. 

New geopolitical players beyond nation-states will be empowered by Artificial Intelligence

In March 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron asked, “Who can claim to be sovereign, on their own, in the face of the digital giants?” which essentially claims that in certain ways, leading digital tech companies are more powerful than whole nations itself. Let us take the example of the Ukraine invasion. While in response to this, national governments placed economic sanctions on the Russian Federation, these were not as impactful as the decisions of companies such as Apple, Meta, Dell, and IBM to cease their operations in the country. 

The importance of this can be seen in another instance. When Ukraine feared that its internet connectivity would be disrupted by this invasion, the country turkey to tech entrepreneur Elon Musk instead of a friendly national government. Musk responded to Ukraine’s request by deploying his Starlink satellite internet service restoring and ensuring internet connectivity. 

The digital oligopoly is fast becoming an Artificial Intelligence oligopoly due to its access to large growing databases that have provided fuel for machine learning algorithms. Leading corporations in the United States and China, due to their vast wealth, can either acquire smaller companies or develop new applications that promise new tools and innovations. Artificial intelligence oligopoly may also find Machine Learning systems as helpful in moving around national regulations and boundaries.

Artificial intelligence opens possibilities for new forms of conflict

Conflict arises in many forms. These include influencing public opinion to manipulate election results through fake media or manipulated social media campaigns. Other forms of conflict include interference in other countries’ infrastructure such as transportation, communication, or power. 

Managing such forms of conflict will be difficult to manage which advocates for a complete reformulation of arms control instruments. While nuclear bombs, for example, are limited in their application, current arms control negotiations need adversaries in order to correctly perceive each other’s capabilities. However, with Artificial Intelligence, capabilities can quickly develop.

In the absence of enforceable treaties constricting deployment, autonomous weapons systems will eventually be accessible to terrorists or other non-state actors. Furthermore, a poorly understood autonomous weapon system might create conflicts or exacerbate existing hostilities.

There is a need to have an open dialogue about the benefits, limitations, and complexities of AI in order to mitigate the geopolitical risks of AI by drawing a comprehensive oversight as needed. One potential avenue for this is the G20 summit. Another possibility is introducing a new international governance mechanism to involve key stakeholders.

The management of deadly weapon systems and climate change is important if we are to reform and work on international security, economic prosperity, and the public good and well-being of humans. With the increasingly progressive development trajectory of Artificial Intelligence, it is believed that the benefit of humankind will be directly dependent on AI to bring about collective change so we must put reforms and regulations in place that will allow such benefits to come about in the most efficient and productive manner. 


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