There’s a lot going on in the world of foreign policy these days-the Huawei case, India’s outreach to the neighbourhood, US sanctions on Iran etc. but what almost no one is discussing is how AI and Blockchain can impact International Relations and public policy. After a quick analysis, we find that, true to their tag of being ‘disruptors’, AI and Blockchain are set to change how diplomatic negotiations, foreign policy analysis and public service delivery are done. Future wars may even see robots fighting it out instead of humans!
Diplomacy and Foreign Policy Analysis
As we all know, negotiations and meetings involve the studying of a number of documents- agreements, treaties, rules, regulations etc which can be very time consuming. Added to that, there is a lot of number crunching involved, especially in trade negotiations.
The present style of writing these agreements is not readable by a computer but what is required is a machine that can go through all of these documents, connect the dots and then present the findings in an easy manner. This has been made possible to a certain extent due to the development of a technology called Natural Language Processing (NLP). One such machine called the Cognitive Trade Advisor (CTA) was made and used for trade negotiations at the WTO Public Forum in 2018.
Another important area is the need to study the countries’ foreign policies in detail- the timeline, changes over time, domestic situation etc. to understand what to pitch or predict their behavior which can also be done by machines in what is known as predictive analysis.
This can be taken forward by countries foreign ministries’ in partnership with private firms to build machines to assist and augment the capabilities of their diplomats.
Wars and Military technology
Coming to the question of wars and military technology, there are talks of the future wars being robotic wars with humans remotely controlling them. Small beginnings have been made through drones and missiles. The Israeli manufacturer of the Spice Bomb used by IAF in the Balakot strikes is planning a new version of the bomb that would be even more smart and precise. USA, Israel and China are said to have invested hugely in AI. A well known US example is that of Project Maven to analyze videos shot by drones. India, however does not have any well known or widely used AI, Blockchain based military technology. Technology experts say that the Indian armed forces can begin by using them in logistics and supply chain management.
Fear of an International AI arms race- AI as the new ‘nuclear’
It is thought that whoever leads in the development and adoption of AI technology can be the new world leader, in the same way as Britain dominated the world by leading the industrial revolution. President Putin of Russia echoed the same feeling when he said, “Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia, but for all humankind. It comes with colossal opportunities, but also threats that are difficult to predict. Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.” Many policy analysts suspect that this may be one of the reasons for USA’s aggressive approach in the trade war.
Countries that do not have the money and resources to pursue AI related weapons research may not be able to defend themselves anymore. They could get entrenched further in the grasp of neo-colonialism that is plaguing them at present.
How to control AI based Lethal Autonomous weapon systems?
AI weapons that are automated cannot and will not have a human way of thinking. How well would it be able to gauge whether the weapon that it is firing is actually required or not? So there would be a need for a human to be above the AI system to supervise it. Otherwise terrible mishaps can occur. Till a little more than a year back, the world was worried about what will happen if Kim Jong Un actually presses his nuclear button. Now imagine the worry that we should be having, if a machine were to be taking that decision.
So, all of these concerns again bring back diplomacy into the picture. Countries have to jointly negotiate rules and regulations for AI technology. This will lead to what is called ‘Science Diplomacy.’ For example, who would be prosecuted if there is an accident involving a driverless car?
The other concern that comes out is that of human rights, due to the Big Data analytics going on and the increased capabilities that AI has to offer. Anonymization of data would be a challenge as unique identification of an individual is possible by simple cross referencing of multiple parameters.
People’s right to privacy and the ‘right to be forgotten’ will be under serious threat. Also, what about older people and people who are unaware and those who may not even want to use the technology. The concept of ‘Consent’ may become something that exists only on paper.
Freedom of speech would be threatened because of increased capabilities to study a person’s social media behavior. People would resort to self-censorship. Already that is what is feared due to China’s planned Social credit system which gives citizens points on ‘good behaviour’ defined by the state.
There has to be a prevention of discrimination based on machine processing and profiling. Nobody should be left out for silly errors and genuine mistakes.
India is preparing a National Programme on AI with a National Centre on AI and a number of centres of excellence according to the Interim Budget of 2019. According to news reports, an AI based night vision system was envisaged at the Army Technology Summit in January 2019.
In his speech the then Finance Minister stressed upon the role of the private sector in achieving this vision. Speaking to the writer, Dr Shilpa Asopa Jain from the Amity Institute of International Studies said that her institute is probably the only one in the country that is offering a paper on how AI is going to change international relations so that students do not think that it is only technical and for engineering students.
AI/ML, Blockchain & Digital Transformation & Curtain Raiser (Download PDF)
The impact of Blockchain is more in public service delivery and public policy than in international relations and diplomacy. It can be used to build new solutions for the existing problems, by ensuring greater transparency and efficiency.
Estonia is using Blockchain to offer government-issued digital IDs; the Georgian Government has a project to register land titles using a private Blockchain while the United Nations is working on Blockchain pilot projects that help vulnerable people, such as refugees, by delivering aid more efficiently.
City and local governments can benefit from distributed ledger technologies in terms of data privacy, citizens’ rights, ethic boundaries, digital sovereignty, and community governance.
Dubai is carrying out a city-wide pilot that spans from the digitization of health records on Blockchain to provide patients and care providers with secure access to medical data; streamlining ID verification to reduce business registration times; using Blockchain-based wills and contracts to ease transfer of ownership; boost tourism through a Blockchain-based program that would allow visitors to better earn and spend loyalty points etc.
“Transactions can be verified close to real time and combined with the extensive use of privacy services make fraud and cybercrime very difficult,” says an IBM report.
In a blog post on Medium, Jennifer Brody explains that “in an age of heightened alarm over electoral fraud, Blockchain is especially promising in this field.”
“This is because each vote becomes immutable after it is recorded on the Blockchain, unlike penetrable electronic voting systems currently in use,” she said while warning that “despite the benefits, some government officials remain hesitant to support Blockchain technology for a number of reasons: namely, its decentralized structure and technological complexity, coupled with policymakers’ tendency toward risk aversion.”
Marcos Troyjo, the Director of Intelligent Tech & Trade Initiative (ITTI) outlined a range of practical implications of AI and Blockchain for international trade: “Instrumentally, they enable more proactive supply chains by predicting customer behavior, calculating fast and cheap shipping routes, and foreseeing customer cancellations. Ultimately, an artificially intelligent supply chain is a proactive supply chain, one that is both agile and able to alleviate the impact of inevitable disruptions.”
The European Blockchain Partnership,will see EU-wide collaboration on regulatory and technical matters.
The EU will allocate €300 million in Blockchain investment over the next three years. It has established the European Blockchain Observatory to undertake research on how Blockchain can be applied.
Dejan Dincic, a Blockchain expert while speaking on Cyber Mediation gave an example of the role of Blockchain in monitoring and implementation of agreements.
In the hypothetical example,that he provided- there is a river shared by three countries, and there is a conflict about the use of the shared resource. Perhaps an agreement could be reached, or the conflict avoided, if all the parties were reassured by neutral monitoring of the water use. For example, co-ownership of a Blockchain, distributed among the three countries, and possible co-ownership of a regional or international body (the UN, for example), could be combined with smart sensors that feed data directly into the Blockchain. In this way, transparent and live reporting is ensured and findings are recorded in an immutable way.
Therefore, when envisioning the future of Blockchain in government, the potential use cases are endless.
After a macro view on how AI and Blockchain can change the world independently of each other, we come to the end of the discourse by mentioning there are also cases of synergy among the two technologies with one of them being the usage of Blockchain for increasing data effectiveness through security. Blockchain helps keep data secure without any tampering. The data in the Blockchain is encrypted in such a way that it cannot be altered or changed. This secure data means better AI models and better results.
Rajesh Saravanan is a student at Hindu College, University of Delhi. He has a keen interest in foreign policy and aspires to be a diplomat. He is doing his internship with The Policy Times and occasionally blogs at Indian Zest.