Statehood under new threat

| Updated: February 07, 2018 22:19:49

Statehood under new threat

Any International Relations student will easily trace today's major tensions and rivalries to locations like Saudi Arabia, the South China Sea, Syria, and the like, if not Muslim-baiting, racial showdowns, or a lone-wolf attack. Even as a correct observation, the response still misses another huge ongoing tussle capable of enormous future restructuring: survival-of-the-fittest scrambles utilising artificial intelligence (AI).

Which country leads the AI revolution worldwide is intimately associated with non-state dynamics: not just the ubiquitous Internet impact influencing everyone on this planet, but how it has become the tool to significantly downsize state weight. Alongside we see the growth of a different type of a 'tribe', one built upon the number of Wikipedia 'links' between individuals to determine which specific 'tribe', that is, the linkage network, gets more or less relative traffic (or 'hits'/'clicks'). The influence measured here, much like keeping pace with President Donald J. Trump's 'twitter' counts, may be an innocent 'child' in today's competitive playing-field; but since it arguably carries the potential to seriously challenge, even irrevocably shake, any state, big or small, the more we know the sooner the better, the more breathing time we may have.

Within the context of the World Economic Forum's (WEF's) 2018 gathering,  Masha Borak, a technology reporter based in Beijing,  has counted that, of the 2,512 AI corporations listed in 2017, the United States is the runaway leader, accounting for 42 per cent of them all, with China, the top contender, boasting no more than 23 per cent. Britain and Sweden follow them from Europe, Japan and Singapore from Asia, with Australia speaking for the continent of the same name. Clearly, the tussle is not just between the Top-two, since they net two-thirds of all AI enterprises, but also all other countries given the noise Russia's hacking created over the French and US elections recently.

Behind the existing disparity between China and the United States indicators measuring the future strongly accent the United States widening the gap: it is spending one-and-a-half times more as AI investments than China, with twice as many more talented people, and almost as many more corporations. Unless Trump's 'America First' policy approach bites them directly and severely, that lead is unlikely to easily evaporate.

This is in spite of Chinese AI corporations "springing up like bamboo shoots after spring rain" (Borak, November 03, 2017, see: http://www.weforum.org/agend a/2017/11/ china-vs-us-who-is-winning-the-big-ai-battle?utm_content=buffer0051d&utm-medium=social&utm_ source=fa...). China spearheads the AI ecosystem domain through the BAT trinity; for assistant platform and self-driving platform, it turns to DuerOS and Appollo; in deep-learning it has Paddle Paddle; and for customer servicing Dian Xiaomi. These are up against the US heavyweights Amazon, Google, IBM, and Microsoft, to name but a few, none of which have been lying idle: they continue to not only reap the harvest of the 78,000 US talent-pool (against China's 39,200), but also invest in their future through its vast array of educational institutions, for instance, 80 per cent of the Top-20 global universities in the field being located in the United States. Like US military superiority over China, the United States is too dominant to instantly worry, but that China is catching up is not a thought that can be put to sleep, given that its Belt-Road Initiative and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank seriously challenge both US global spread and World Bank financial/developmental  monopoly.

If the United States has the lead and China the 'Springing . . . bamboo shoots," the picture still remains incomplete without factoring in the European Union. True, Britain has begun the exiting process and Sweden did not have both feet inside the European Union as its independence of the Euro currency indicates, but the European Union, led by the European Parliament, is the easy front-runner with AI controls. Within the next two years, for example, the WEF estimate of developing countries may lose 5.0 million jobs to robots. Former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt, now a member of European Parliament, argues "that most human beings will be superfluous in the not-so-distant-future" (December 2017, https://www.weforum. org/agenda/2017/12/why-europe-should-lead-the-way-on-ai-and-robotics?utm_content=bufferd648c&utm_medium=social&utm_s…).  Even if the United States and China may be far ahead of their European competitors, they not only lag in terms of controls (through meaningful legislations), but also may face more infrastructural shortfalls and coherence when controls will actually be needed.

In short, three types of leadership qualities may be up in the air, not one of which can presently land a fatal blow on any of the others, or on IoT (Internet of Things) developments: the United States in terms of talent, resources, and results; China threatening through its start-up advantage, a more robust future; and the European Union with governance.

Of course, the European Union is not a state, but even as a collection of states (such as each and every state in the Internet universe), a greater long-term threat is posed by the emergent tribes. As President Trump has shown in just one year, his tweets have been able to neutralise some of the most powerful media outlets in the United States, including the Washington Post, the New York Times, and CNN. Most amazingly, he has been able to do so with the most nonsensical weapon, a claim to 'fake news'. If this claim can humble once-mighty newspapers and television channels, states cannot be far behind on the firing line.

Indeed, the Trump-related 2016 presidential election exposed how Russia was able to not only hack US media but also pose serious threats to security-related official agencies, like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Prompting a grand-jury (criminal) investigation, putative leaks accessed by Russia indicate how just about everything, that is, every code, secret, and battle-plan, can be compromised by anyone from anywhere, even the nuclear button inside the president's briefcase. Contrariwise, the 'Me-too' movement might also emerge as a far more formidable social 'tribe', capable of wreaking far more damaging consequences, or simply ramping up the most formidable slew of protective legislations on the gender front.

Once part and parcel of science-fiction stories, in the wake of AI developments, just as robots stand in line to threaten humans, 'tribes' have gained ample weight to similarly challenge states/societies. If fears become reality, half-a-millennium of the Westphalia age in which statehood, defined in terms of nationalities, might make way for a statehood era built upon the most influential people the world over. With over 7.5 billion on this planet and half-baked or full-fledged democratic claims everywhere, we may face more daunting a future than ever. It will be like swimming with new skills, or sinking.

Dr. Imtiaz A. Hussain is Professor & Head of

Department of Global Studies &

Governance at Independent University, Bangladesh.

[email protected]

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