05 November 2019

Global security’s techno-geopolitics and the digital autocracy in Artificial Intelligence era

Niculae Iancu

Artificial intelligence development can increase the hyperbolic stories and push global security’s analyses towards the apocalyptic. Since the emergence of the first industrial revolution, two centuries ago, there were many analyses written on artificial intelligence and robots which are ready to take humankind’s control. However, the speculations on disruptive technologies’ developments were, many times, seen as utopian and included rather in the SF literature than the strategic and security studies. We are, today, facing the critical moment wherein technology should be consciously and intelligently included in the national security strategy.

Image source: Mediafax

Technopolitics' paradigms in disruptive technologies’ era

Artificial Intelligence’s development during the last decade, mostly thanks to computers and data store capacities’ increase, have raised some political, economic and ethical concerns and topics, due to the impact of artificial intelligence on humankind’s future. From security’s study perspective, such concerns are creating a new analysis field, called by some voices technopolitics, and related to a “political action, political communication, and – partly - political management, through technology”. Yet, considering the magnitude of the new technologies’ impact on global security, I would call this strategic studies space techno-geopolitics, a field which studies the way artificial intelligence and other disruptive technologies are shaping the current and future national security and, especially, the way technological evolutions are eroding the defining benchmarks of the nation-state and states’ behavior within the international system.

Nowadays’ prevailing topics come from artificial intelligence’s potential to get out of human intelligence’s control and go to “singularity”, which is the pragmatism of a more or less distanced future, wherein intelligence robots will replace human being in any economic or social field. In fact, the entire idea is accepting that computing machines have “absolute” rationality, they are not wrong at all and, furthermore, they tell people directly what they want to hear, whenever and wherever they want to.

There are many people claiming that artificial intelligence will always be controlled by people. This way, their accuracy would be, in fact, determined by the quality of experts’ analyses, and its performance would be the expression of programmers’ mastery in writing and linking programming codes. Therefore, regardless of how artificial intelligence is being manifested, individuals will be the ones to take control of the purpose, manifestation form and its results. Hence, artificial intelligence will never be pointed at for impersonalizing the “dirty things” technology may produce, regardless of the reasons and circumstances.

However, artificial intelligence started to learn by itself. It learns from its own lessons and it is improving its results through self-evaluation and the autonomous elimination of programming errors. It follows online human behavior and its takes people’s tasks by reproducing their repetitive actions. It communicates via text, audio and video with each individual to answer his/her questions and offers personalized solutions to more and more complex issues. It creates alternative scenarios for hard decisions and speculates the risks to propose shorter and safer methods towards success. It watches us with its “eyes”, which are all over the place and it evaluates our wishes and interests through sensors incorporated in almost each object that’s making our life easier. For now, our relation with artificial intelligence is based on our decisions and trust, on a certain type of “sovereignty”, wherein we are giving choosing technology in the detriment of the freedom of decision.  Yet, there are more and more voices claiming that we are, today, in a full symbiosis between human and machine, hereof, the artificial intelligence will dominate and use human beings to create a new world. This new world will be dominated by those having the technological supremacy. The fight for domination has just started.

Regardless of the perspective, technological evolutions’ effects on human society will be huge. We are already witnessing major transformations, and the security problems it is creating are also huge. This is why, the binomial between technology and security offers the prevalent semasiology in nowadays’ political and strategic debates. The techno-geopolitics of this super-technologized world, wherein states and individuals are interacting differently than they were doing it in the past it offers topics that are covering the security agendas with precious words and abstract topics. Most of the global and national security prognosis and analysis platforms think that artificial intelligence and disruptive technologies are the greatest contemporary challenges against humankind.  The big chancelleries are working on policies and strategies aiming at ensuring its survival in a profoundly technologized world. International organizations are more and more concerned with the future of this hyper-computerized world, a world caught between the global computer systems and pressured by the huge data “clouds” that these days’ vital information are massively going to.

For example, the central topic of this year’s World Economic Forum was 4.0 Globalization. Debates’ leitmotiv was how “The Fourth Industrial Revolution represents a fundamental change in the way we live, work and relate to one another. […] These advances are merging the physical, digital and biological worlds in ways that create both huge promise and potential peril. The speed, breadth and depth of this revolution is forcing us to rethink how countries develop, how organizations create value and even what it means to be human”. The 2019 security report upon which was anticipated the Munich Security Conference agenda, held at the beginning of this year, included artificial intelligence among the big current issues, along with the disintegration of the international nuclear armament control system, trade protectionism ascension and trans-border organized crime. The reasons why artificial intelligence entered in such an “exquisite” club of the security issue are: research’s democratization in dual technologies field, produced after the civil research took, in the detriment of the military one, the prevailing position in providing artificial intelligence technologies and the “significant transformations of the armed forces induced by artificial intelligence, specifically the technologies offering autonomy and decisional support and which are increasing conflicts’ speed”. The UN organized, in May, the Genève Artificial Intelligence Summit, to offer a “platform for dialogue on artificial intelligence”, starting from  “complex questions about privacy and trust and poses other challenges, from job displacement and potential bias in algorithms, to autonomous weapons and social manipulation”. Moreover, states have already entered a new global arms race for supremacy in artificial intelligence field, elaborating special policies and strategies and making huge investments in disruptive technologies’ development and research, which are using such intelligence.

Digital authoritarianism and the perspective of a new global ideological bipolarity

It may seem surprising that, despite these new political, economic and social paradigms, the international states and organizations are mostly trying to preserve the rules of the current international system and the traditional sovereignty principles, the territorial integrity and national identity of states, than adapting to change. The protectionist measures want to integrate the new technologies in old behavioral models of different active actors in common security space. This tendency is creating the potential of a new type of civilizational collision, which can lead to breaks and polarizations with negative effects, and not the integration and openness towards cooperation, as technology offers.

Besides, using artificial intelligence for control purposes is becoming one of the biggest security challenges for the near future. The main beneficiary of artificial intelligence is the capacity they give to computing machines to make better decisions than people do. Computers are starting to relate better and better to the accomplishment of a pre-programmed utility and involve programmers less. The performance of complex decision algorithms depends on the acquisition power, the representation, analysis and manipulation of information to accomplish tasks, satisfy and increase human consumers’ perceptions. The benefits are huge. The impact is so big that performance, comfort and wealth will be soon redefined in a binary language. However, as sometimes “The best is the enemy of the good”, artificial intelligence’s power can act like a double-edged sword.

Through direct influence and expectation and perception’s utility accomplishment control, whether it is social or economic, artificial intelligence can turn into a powerful tool used by governs to influence their citizens’ behavior and direct control, in a new type of cyber-authoritarianism. The emergence of this new type of governance raises questions on the e-state concept. A state that replaces the administration, at least its interface with it, with intelligence applications, able to permanently get and capitalize data about each citizen to include them in massive data bases, super-integrated, but also extremely vulnerable. The immoral exploitation of such acknowledgement treasure by an intrusive regime can shape the individual and social behavior to build motivation and the necessity of a new post-modern paradoxical ideology form, already called in some papers “digital authoritarianism”. The paradox comes from the way the meta-narratives’ destruction, specific to postmodernism, favored by the cyber activation of post-truth era’s active stimulus, wherein emotions and principles, and not objective facts, are determining people’s behaviors, can lead to a social restructuration, controlled to favor an autocratic governance.

The collision of digital authoritarianism and liberal democracy’s values cannot be avoided, both inside the Orwellian societies, censored through Artificial Intelligence, and the international scene, within a new type of ideological competition in the cyber space, using virtual methods and tools. For both, the target are the people. Cyber authoritarianism will try, by any means, to destroy people’s privacy to send them regime’s messages and censor their access to uncomfortable information. On the other hand, liberal governments will try to create a set of universal rules for virtual space’s ethic use and to provide citizens’ access to the entire governmental spectrum, so that to not affect perceptions, destroy the reality or provide half-truths. Within these many “battles” inside the great conflict, the autocrats will use artificial intelligence to create and promote fake news, meanwhile the democrats will use artificial intelligence to block fake news.

Society’s control will be eased by the huge surveilling capacity of the new technologies, which will be included in governmental rewards mechanism of conformism and loyalty through “social credits systems”, as it is already happening in China.  The virtual social dialogue on political topics or topics which are uncomfortable for the power will be limited by a “big national firewall”, like the current “big Chinese cyber-wall”. This tool can censor the access of 800 million Internet users from China to Google, Facebook, YouTube or The New York Times. Therefore, China is at the top of the states massively controlling their own citizens’ online presence, along with-no surprise!- Iran, Syria, Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Then it follows, again no surprise, Russia, Turkey and Venezuela, according to a top made by Freedom House for 2018.

Comparitech has recently made a study called “Which are the countries which are protecting their citizens’ privacy better?”, wherefrom it is highlighted that “Not one country is consistent in protecting the privacy of its citizens, most are actively surveilling their citizens, and only five could be deemed to have “adequate safeguards.” In a top with 49 states, Russia and China are the most intrusive, followed by India, Thailand and Malaysia. Romania has the 18 position within the EU states in terms of the proper measures to protect citizens’ privacy in the virtual space, a rate similar to Poland, Belgium and Luxemburg, higher than Germany, Italy or Hungary, however, lower than Great Britain, Holland or Bulgaria.

Is this fight already lost?

An intelligent state defends its own citizens against cyber threats, firstly providing them the protection of those personal data which gives them confidence, privacy and safety. Blocking the outside dangers and the possibility of abusive and non-kinetical exploitation of inside individual information, asks for the inclusion of artificial intelligence and disruptive technologies in the national security strategy, starting from assuming some essential principles, emerged from the defining benchmarks of liberal democracy.

1. Preventing the establishment of full technological control in citizens’ surveillance, control and manipulation capacities, by providing technologies plurality support for the critical interest infrastructures for national security. State’s intervention should only consist in supporting a healthy competitive environment and the implementation of intelligent democratic surveillance measures to respect human’s right to decide on the privacy rate s/he wants to get from technology providers.

2. The balanced regulation of the virtual space and the prevention of achieving power by controlling the social media platforms and the big data bases. The government will have to make sure that technological companies are following the regulations on personal data management and prevent the collection of information from multiple platforms and data bases, especially sensitive data, like those related to health. Such restrictions should also be followed by the state, to prevent abuses which, usually, are leading to the installation of digital autocracy, except for very special cases, with concrete data on the materialization of threats against national security, such as, for example, the terrorist ones. Furthermore, in digital autocracies, citizens will not be forces to change their behavior, but also their way of thinking, to follow regime’s ideological demands. Artificial Intelligence controlled by the government and exploited through social media, IoT and the rest of advanced verification, surveillance and control technologies, can transform the society following a “behavioral model” that will restrict the individual liberties and their right to get informed and decide.

3. The participation at the establishment of an international right framework to regulate the way states are using artificial intelligence, social media technologies and the new disruptive technologies. The defining elements for the current international “physical” system should be harmonized with the cyber-space features, so that to ensure the “transition” of human’s rights fundamental values and the state sovereignty from the physical world to the virtual one. The challenge when dealing with such a process comes from the sensitiveness of the balance between freedom and security in the state-citizen relation, increased by digital world’s diversity. Equally, the lack of physical borders in the cyber-space raises some serious interpretation issues when it comes to the national sovereignty concept and, implicitly, the legitimacy of governments’ measures to promote the national interest inside this space. Furthermore, to protect liberal democracy, they will have to redefine the deterrence and preemption measures to gain a foundation and force in combating the global expansion of digital autocracy.

The success of this process depends on strategies’ capacity to adapt the current security analysis models to the complexity of this super-computerized world. The solutions should cross the conventional principles borders, which are dominating nowadays’ national security strategies’ laboratories. The active and dominant presence of a state in the global cyber space will be determined, firstly, by its innovation capacity. Therefore, the firmness of the first steps towards this new world will be given by the measure of research investments and technological education. Only then state’s steps towards a super-computerized world could be objectively and realistically anticipated.

Translated by Andreea Soare