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  • Anoushka Jha

An International Order in the Hands of Artificial Intelligence- A Friend or Foe?

“The Panopticon is already here,'' says Ross Anderson, reporting on the rise of Artificial Intelligence in Sino-American politics. There is clearly an AI race ensuing, with countries such as China, the US and Russia voicing their determination to ‘win’ the global race for data and technological domination, thus fundamentally restructuring geopolitics.

Yet Europe appears to be a different story. In April 2021, the EU released its new policy on data governance, directly challenging the Silicon Valley philosophy that technology and government should remain apart. Under the proposals, the EU is demanding compliance with documentation, transparency, oversight and security. This regulatory focus on AI, which can be used to improve healthcare, reduce carbon emissions, increase sustainable crop yields, and advance economic growth, marks a shift in the link between diplomacy and technological innovation.

This is an opportunity for Europe and its transatlantic counterpart, the Biden Administration, to redeem the lack of reciprocity in trade deal agreements through harmonious cooperation on the technology front. At the February 2021 Munich Security Conference, Biden stated he wanted to “defend [Europe and America’s] shared values and advance our prosperity”. AI, the mechanism through which interests of data, strategy and enhanced security operates, may now become a political instrument through which the US and Europe can counter the rise of Chinese AI. China is using the technology as part of its belt and road initiative, yet the government's authoritarian model of regulation and innovation, combined with the limited capacity for digital trade provision evidenced by the Regional Trade Commission, incentivises a digital alliance to counter any potential threat that may arise. Indeed, China’s 2017 plan to be the global leader in AI, combined with the Russian President’s claim that ‘AI is power’ narrative, suggests that the new European policy is a symbol of a tougher stance being taken against threats such as surveillance, institutional imbalance, and violation of data privacy.

Yet, there are limits to consider in both the EU policy itself and the capacity for diplomacy to take the untrodden path of 21st-century modernisation. For example, the Commission report’s emphasis on regulation and data governance requires AI system designers to specify “the features, characteristics or elements that are particular to the specific geographical, behavioural or functional setting or context within which the AI system is intended to be used.” From a diplomatic standpoint, the US may see this as difficult to apply practically, limiting the scope for EU-American convergence on AI Cooperation. As the European Foreign Policy Department suggests, there must be, on the part of the EU, more substance and clarity to the content of data protection and regulation. Member states should first work in harmony with researchers and technology experts to ensure policymakers are aware of the ‘geopolitical baton’ which they are undertaking. This will not only foster an altruistic community of governmental and private individuals working towards a common goal but also reformulate the best ways to administer AI in relation to diplomacy.

Secondly, the policy itself is not the driver of change. It is the use of such a policy in international relations that is the true test of its potential. However, there are already challenges ahead. For example, whilst the US and Europe hold a shared agenda in promoting AI innovation as a tool for harmonised international growth, much of the White House’s principles for a national framework on AI operate on a state, rather than federal, level. Whether this is a result of the remnants of Donald Trump’s unilateral doctrine, or the desire to react to strategic revolutions through intermittent bilateral agreements, a multilateral and non-risk averse State Department must step in. The EU proposal may provide a cushion for security and ethical progression, but it is unclear whether the ambivalence of its rhetoric will impede on the actual purpose of AI itself. With only 6 of the 100 worldwide AI start-ups in Europe, such transatlantic cooperation, combined with a strong output procedure, is necessary for a data-driven and growth-led diplomatic order. A 2020 survey recorded that only 1-3% of EU companies (with more than 10 employees) use machine learning/natural language processing to enhance their businesses. Thus, the policy must be combined with incentives, both on the continental and transnational levels.

In 2016, Michele Wucker predicted it would be the next ‘grey rhino’'- a neglected threat that only reveals its true danger after lurking as a black swan for the majority of its lifespan. However, European and American policies have the advantage of being able to reverse this prophecy. There are steps being taken; the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence founded in June 2020 by member states, and the US involvement in the September 2020 forum for AI defence policies (along with 7 European states and countries such as Australia, Canada, and South Korea), is evidence of achievement. The challenge will be for the US to take a pro-active rather than defensive approach which it has done with China in its 2.1169 Strategic Competition Act, and for the EU to engage more actively with consumers and businesses. Geopolitics now is technological, and it goes beyond the means of ‘winning’ the game; it is rather a team sport, with the golden trophy of political integrity not far from sight.


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