Abishur Prakash discussed the top 10 tech geopolitical risks in 2021 as outlined in a report released by the Center for Innovating the Future (CIF), as well as provided updates on the global tectonic shifts in Next Geopolitics, namely in blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), and many others.
Mr Prakash is a geopolitical futurist at the CIF, a tech strategy consultancy based in Toronto. He has authored several books, including Next Geopolitics: Volume One and Two, Geopolitics of Artificial Intelligence (Go.AI) and The Age of Killer Robots.
Sputnik: Your consultancy has listed the top 10 geopolitics of tech risks for 2021. Do you prioritise these according to severity levels or do you perceive them to be an interconnected ebb and flow of importance? How should these threats be treated and why?
Abishur Prakash: The risks identified fall along a spectrum and have been assembled, not in terms of priority, as they are all equal in importance, but in terms of likelihood of occurring over the next twelve months.
These risks mark a permanent shift in how geopolitics is evolving. For the first time, the biggest challenges facing countries and companies have little to do with territory or resources. Now, it is all about technology.
Our risks should be treated as 'markers' for how broad geopolitics of technology is, or what I call 'Next Geopolitics'.
|Top 10 Geopolitics of Tech Risks|
|Government 'Sovereign Data Zones'||Big Tech and Governments Set To Clash|
Blockchain Deployments To Split Global Economy
|Tech-Based Institutions Will Define Global Rules|
|Global Flashpoints Due to Military AI and Robotics||Export Controls on Tech Trade|
|5G Coalitions Will Develop New Tech Manifestos||Immigration 4.0 To Base Tech Talent On Ethnicity|
|Space Races To Build New Hegemonies||Consumer Markets Weaponise to Access Chips|
Most people only think about US-China tensions or 5G bans, but there is far more taking place, including areas we have highlighted, like new tech-based alliances and algorithms generating new flashpoints.
These new geopolitical realities are not being given much attention and this means most of the world is overlooking what is happening: an absolute reconfiguration of geopolitics.
Concurrently, these risks reflect just how many companies will be affected by the geopolitics of technology. In the past, geopolitics only affected investment banks or oil companies, but now dozens of industries are in the crosshairs as technology transforms the discipline.
Take Immigration 4.0, a risk that will affect the entire world, which stems from how tensions over tech are changing how governments approach immigration.
This means multinationals seeking to bring tech talent from abroad or train them locally must now contend with geopolitics.
Lastly, these risks reflect how fast geopolitics of technology is accelerating. Dozens of events took place in 2020, from India’s TikTok ban, Australia’s decision on rare earth minerals and Russia’s stance on AI. Momentum will only pick up speed in 2021.
Sputnik: The importance of blockchain cannot be understated as governments are pushing respective programmes to implement the technology. How do you see blockchain as a metaphor for the reconnection of the human individual to the process of value exchange? Can the global economy remain under mere market forces, or has it become something more?
Abishur Prakash: I view blockchain as a 'rewiring' for the world. Like the Internet, blockchain represents a platform for commerce of all kinds, whether in national elections, financial transactions or the movement of sensitive information. But unlike the Internet, which emerged in a largely unipolar world, blockchain is emerging at a time of great geopolitical rivalry.
If a business in Spain wants to set up an online shop to sell globally, or if a government in Africa wants to boost trade with South America, Beijing wants it to use BSN.
Obviously, countries like the US, France and Australia will not be comfortable with this, and they may not join the BSN or may roll out an alternative, splitting the global economy. On one hand, dozens of nations may rewire their economies for the BSN, but other regions may conversely be governed by a separate blockchain stemming from a Chinese adversary.
— Abishur Prakash (@AbishurPrakash) December 30, 2020
While the roots of blockchain may have revolved around security and value exchange, the adoption of blockchain is taking place for an entirely different reason. Governments are utilizing this technology to rollout digital currencies to boost economies, build new geopolitical edge or enhance political processes by boosting transparency and accountability.
This means this is not just about 'market forces' affecting the spread of blockchain via digital currencies or Decentralised Finance (DEFI), it is also about geopolitics. The way governments and non-state actors leverage blockchain to build their global footprint will define blockchain more than anything else, making geopolitics the elephant in the room.
Sputnik: Past advancements of technology, namely in the 1990s and 2000s, paved the way for the era of globalisation, but as the process developed, realignments of control have formed under numerous tech-based institutions such as the Global Partnership for AI (GPAI), 3GPP, IEEE, National Blockchain Committee, D10 Alliance and others. Where are the demarcation lines strongest in global tech governance, and will this erode the usefulness of major institutions such as the UN or create a "Venn Diagram" of interdependent power structures?
Abishur Prakash: The established institutions are about to face a relevance crisis. For the past 70 years, traditional institutions have governed the world, and their rules and proposals have been adopted without question. Equally important is that the whole world was invited to these groups.
Both groups are made up of Western nations plus emerging powers like India and South Korea, and neither China or Russia are members. Quite humorously, the very nations that created traditional institutions are now stepping away from them and creating smaller clubs focused on technology!
These new technology groups, or tech alliances, will give established institutions a run for their money. Who should set the global rules for 5G or 6G - the D10 or United Nations?
There will be overlaps in some areas as different technology groups cooperate or coexist, but in many others, there will be utter opposition as different groups clash over who has jurisdiction.
I discuss this challenge in a concept called 'AI20,' where I propose a new AI-focused institution should emerge, made up of countries, companies and cities, which will clash with traditional institutions over who calls the shots.
Sputnik: The movie Chappie is a brilliant example of how military AI could create geopolitical flashpoints, namely as machines move from artificial narrow intelligence (ANI) to artificial general intelligence (AGI). Why is the discipline of AI ethics a core aspect of military AI, and can you offer a couple of examples of potential risks governments and corporations will face in the future?
Abishur Prakash: The ethics of military AI is the single most important area related to the role AI plays in defense, which is why I dedicate several sections of my book The Age of Killer Robots to ethics. When we talk about ethics, we are talking about the implicit rules that will define how AI behaves and thinks, which are parameters in the programming.
Several defense agencies such as US Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are aware of the importance of ethics. DARPA has been working on explainable AI, or AI that can explain why it arrived at a certain decision.
This is the pre-requisite for ethics. By understanding how algorithms think, it is easier to build rules that govern this thinking.
The Australian military is also working on ethics for killer robots while the US Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) held a meeting with 13 nations on ethics for military AI in September this year.
Consider, for instance, algorithms scanning satellite imagery. If these algorithms are biased, they may identify threats or risks emerging from a particular nation on a scale that does not match the analyses of other nations.
Second, ethics can give defense and technology companies a new kind of power. The companies who are developing military AI could program ethics they feel are appropriate, putting many militaries at the mercy of how these firms think.
Lastly, ethics could be a new way for nations to build their global footprint. Certain governments may seek to export their AI-ethics to other nations, creating new fault lines over whose ethics governments use to control their military AI.