The Geopolitical Fallout of Global Digitization
The internet was not built with security in mind but it now forms the substrate of global civilization including finance, trade and war.
Powerful new forms of AI and quantum computing are on the horizon. It is a world in which everything is a computer.
The US and China are the leaders in AI and in development of platform economies that soak up data from their own economies and increasingly from others. Both are vying for quantum supremacy - in the two senses of that phrase.
Digitization (AI, Big Data, Dataflows) is beginning to feature prominently in international trade negotiations (USMCA, CTPP) because - services not manufacturing or commodities -
are the future growth areas of employment and revenues and because it is fundamental to future geopolitical power - economic and military. Civil and military are conflating globally.
A rules based international order is required to maintain peace, security and economic progress. Players who do not play by the rules have been much in evidence
of late and the internet and AI provide open avenues for malicious actors.
The political risks & security implications of our new, hyper-connected era are well documented and growing with few obvious easy solutions.
The challenge for the West is:
Can the threats be managed politically and technologically or will the West need to contain actors that will not adhere either to
WTO trade rules or cyber conduct consistent with the global rule of law and norms. Consider recent election tampering, assassinations, disappearances,
the wholesale theft of intellectual property, bank heists and the attacks on electrical and other infrastructure that have been perpetrated by state and non-state actors. And these acts have not yet been fully automated.
Bad actors cannot be allowed to destabilize western society.
The US as the global leader of the western liberal order that it created has four alternatives to digital globalization and those who will not play by the rules:
1. Bring China into a reinvigorated WTO Agreement and international cyber treaty with the aid of its global allies – China changes direction
2. Contain China by extracting US investments in China and isolating China digitally and otherwise - with the aid of its reluctant allies
3. Withdraw into fortress USA and progressively sever its trade and digital connections with the world including its allies and attempt to innovate its way to security and wealth
4. Reengineer the global digital infrastructure to provide for security for the financial, trade and physical infrastructure while muddling through the next decade
Each course of action has risks as does inaction. And some options are just not workable in the long term. Most probable is a steady ramping up of actions that are going to upset the economic and political status quo.
The current broad leadership in Washington and potentially those across the aisle appear to be drifting rudderlessly without a plan but trending toward option 2.
The current White House occupant seems to be on a course to option 3 ("Trade is Bad")
For US allies these options pose existential questions. The lights of foreign ministries are now on 7/24 everywhere.
China may not change its direction and Russia, while a side player, is bent on trouble.
We are entering a period of heightened geopolitical risk.
For AI Policy makers, industry participants and investors
it would be wise to consider the implications of a seismic shift in the global order.
PJM October 2018