AI in Geopolitics
Navigating a Minefield of Innovation and Intrigue
Ok, this sounds boring at this point especially if you’ve been reading this newsletter for a while now, But AI is the dominant force of the 21st century so far and there are no signs of this stopping unless we hit a wall in AI development and get into another AI Winter. But due to the ludicrous amount of funding being poured, and it becoming slowly but surely one of the fastest growing industries and one of the most overhyped– or maybe adequately excited– It comes with a set of challenges that many have spoken in different ways.
Honestly, I think. the Hype is justified, because thanks to the proliferation of AI in a short couple of years, there is a very real possibility of imbuing every single human on planet Earth with a superintelligence in their pocket and that is a revolutionary idea, which is at the same time both magnificent and incredibly unnerving.
We know the existential risk that AI may pose and we need to develop tools policies and failsafe measures to future-proof this technology against the risk of unalignment and also the debate of how democratic should this technology be with the current debate of open source or in-house AI models being developed and launched into the market. Indeed it is a very complex scenario we are in. But is it even possible for all of this to slow down or even stop?
Now, some experts have been calling for a 6-month moratorium on this technology for a while now. But in all reality, I think we are kinda stuck in the inertia of the industry and the geopolitics behind it so we might as well buckle up and both work and pray that things turn out the best way possible.
The Global Landscape of AI Development
This report done by McKinsey 2023 AI report highlights generative AI's significant growth and its increasing integration into various business operations. With investments coming from private companies, governments, the military, and Investors themselves everyone seems to be jumping on the bandwagon of AI and it is expected. This growth is fueled by substantial and diversified investment sources and by the technology's potential to revolutionize many different sectors.
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As we have previously mentioned sectors such as education could benefit from AI leveraging the vast quantities of knowledge with the capacity to customize their offerings to each student and their behavior being a personal tutor with world-quality education and knowledge that can be custom-built to all the parameters that make each student unique. We’ve also talked about the acceleration that will be happening in the rate of scientific discoveries, and we are already seeing this happening in front of our eyes. We already have a Google AI discovering over 2.2 Million new materials in crystalline structures –which need to be synthesized and then tested for properties.– Also we got an AI from a Japanese company that developed an AI for bakeries and then it started discovering cancers that doctors were not capable of identifying. If these are not examples of the deep impact potential that AI will be having in SO many industries and sectors you are missing out on a very important lesson for this century and our species.
However, the report also points out significant challenges such as data inaccuracy– remember the hallucinations– and cybersecurity risks. On one hand, we have the issue of data inaccuracy and synthetic content where more and more generative AIs will be able to create seamless audiovisual content that might confuse the population or actors that might use a very effective AI at convincing people to change their vote or the spread of misinformation throughout the web. On the other hand, we have concerns about privacy and cybersecurity where AIs could be used to analyze the code of a specific website or system and to figure out vulnerabilities in the system in a way that’s better than any human programmer is at the moment.
These issues are critical, and they are part of a broader context where the AI industry is grappling with balancing rapid innovation against the need for reliability and safety in AI systems. This is creating some pushback by regulators wanting to have more information about the industry and also having a very justified concern of leaving the industry running wild without any sort of cohesive regulatory framework to align and guide the industry towards the maximization of its benefits and the reduction of its risks.
The Rising Threat From the East
As if all the issues we just described aren’t enough of a concern we also have a geopolitical scenario bubbling with regards to AI. Because given its relevance AI has something of a first-past-the-post vibe that goes a little something like “ the first company/country to develop AGI wins the game” because suddenly that AI becomes the dominant intelligence in the planet and then is a bit of a bet of whats going to happen. So of course we got on one side the US and other Western countries developing AI companies – with an overwhelming majority being in Silicon Valley– and then we got other players like UAE (with their late open source LLM Falcon) We got India with a massive number of companies and human capital focusing on AI development and the big boy (and most likely the realest threat) China with it’s industrial prowess.
While Silicon Valley maintains a strong dominant position in the global AI landscape, characterized by its innovative spirit and market-driven approach to problem-solving, the rise of AI capabilities in China presents a notable challenge to this dominance. Silicon Valley's AI companies, with their ethos of addressing customer needs and leveraging market forces, have been instrumental in shaping AI as a tool for positive change and societal advancement. These companies, driven by principles of innovation and customer satisfaction, strive to develop AI solutions that enhance people's lives and address real-world problems.
In contrast, China's growing capabilities in AI present a different scenario. While on the surface, Chinese AI companies may share similar goals of technological advancement and problem-solving, there is an underlying concern related to the influence of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The subservience of all Chinese companies, including those in the AI sector, to the CCP's directives and policies, raises concerns about the potential uses and intentions behind their AI developments. As well as the history of tech companies working side by side with the surveillance efforts of the Chinese regime in areas such as monitoring and tracking people’s location, purchasing habits, and text messages to see if the citizens are in line with the doctrine of the CCP. This can be seen as well in the social credit system implemented a few years back as a way for more social control by China with a complex system of ranking behavior and creating incentives to fall in line with the orders of the Party.
This situation poses a significant contrast to the relatively more transparent and market-driven environment of Silicon Valley. The potential for AI technology developed under an authoritarian regime like China's to expand globally brings with it concerns about the implications for privacy, data security, and the ethical use of AI.
This dichotomy between the Silicon Valley model and China's approach to AI underscores a broader conversation about the governance, ethical considerations, and intended uses of AI technologies on the world stage. As AI continues to evolve and permeate various aspects of global society, understanding and addressing these contrasting paradigms becomes increasingly crucial.
The Dominance of Taiwan
This geopolitical soup starts to bubble up pretty quickly when we get into Taiwan’s role in all of this because we got a small island nation, that was formed after the defeat of Chinese nationalists and had to run away from the Red Army of Mao and the beginnings of the communist dictatorship in China – that rules to this day, let us not forget– and since then Mainland communist China has claimed Taiwan almost as a “rebellious region” even though it has been its own damn country for almost a century. So we got that going on but now we also have that Taiwan is a global leader in semiconductor manufacturing, largely due to companies like TSMC, which dominate advanced chip production.
The country's focus on high-tech industries, significant investment in research and development, and a highly skilled workforce contribute to its leading position. Additionally, geopolitical factors and global supply chain dynamics play a role in Taiwan's dominance in the semiconductor market and making it THE place for an advanced chip that goes into the supercomputers that RUN most AI models, but also the chips that go in every computer that tun THE WORLD at this point making Taiwan a bottleneck of the global supply chain of one essential pillar f today’s Modern world.
So, we already had a tense situation between China and Taiwan now we add the AI race on top of that, and the vested interests in protecting Taiwan from a Chinese takeover, or even a Chinese disruption are even more pressing. Now, there are also some other places on this essential supply chain and governments have been taking notice for example the US government has put down legislation to deter and stop companies from selling specific and essential chips to China and the Dutch government has tried to stop ASML to sell specific machines in Chip manufacturing to China. And these measures might – hopefully– be having an effect in slowing down China’s rise and acceleration towards the development of a strong enough AI but personally, it is just a matter of time these measures will not stop China’s development of such technologies but it will slow them down enough so that other players with better technology and ethics might take the lead in this industry.
The Dilemma of AI Development
Silicon Valley and Western nations are in a complex situation regarding AI development, akin to a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" scenario. On one hand, they need to rapidly advance AI technology to maintain their global leadership and prevent other entities, like China, from overtaking them. This urgency stems from the fear that less ethical or authoritarian regimes could develop AI technologies with potentially harmful applications.
On the other hand, there's a pressing need to establish robust regulatory frameworks and solve the AI alignment problem to ensure the ethical and safe deployment of AI. Slowing down to address these issues might mean losing the technological race, but rushing ahead without proper safeguards could lead to the deployment of AI systems with unpredictable or harmful consequences.
Now, if we lived in a perfect world we could maybe draw together a global coalition made up of different countries and experts from all over the planet to address this issue and work together to share information and make real commitments for the development of a truly safe Artificial intelligence. This is why I think some people are still with glassy eyes looking at this problem like it could all be solved if we all developed open-source AIs and then we all just share this freely throughout the planet.
Sadly I believe this is a naive approach done by academics and people who have been too deep into the open-source world and seem to have never met a truly evil person in their lives. As it stands we can see that groups of people under authoritarian regimes are not to be trusted, even though as individuals they might have a moral code and ethics that might prevent them from committing some horrible atrocity, but as part of something larger, they should not be trusted by the structure of power in the institutions that they are a part of. Sadly this puts us on the path forward to work harder and better both in the development of these technologies and in solving the ethical and regulatory dilemmas we are facing right now.
What do you think is this geopolitical dance murking the waters of technological progress? Or will this be a decisive moment for the rise or fall of this century’s superpower?