Aziz Huq Writes About the Geopolitics of AI

A World Divided Over Artificial Intelligence

In November 2023, a number of countries issued a joint communiqué promising strong international cooperation in reckoning with the challenges of artificial intelligence. Startlingly for states often at odds on regulatory matters, China, the United States, and the European Union all signed the document, which offered a sensible, wide-ranging view on how to address the risks of “frontier” AI—the most advanced species of generative models exemplified by ChatGPT. The communiqué identified the potential for the misuse of AI for “disinformation” and for the kindling of “serious, even catastrophic” risks in cybersecurity and biotechnology. The same month, U.S. and Chinese officials agreed to hold talks in the spring on cooperation over AI regulation. These talks will also focus on how to handle the risks of the new technology and ensure its safety.

Through multinational communiqués and bilateral talks, an international framework for regulating AI does seem to be coalescing. Take a close look at U.S. President Joe Biden’s October 2023 executive order on AI; the EU’s AI Act, which passed the European Parliament in December 2023 and will likely be finalized later this year; or China’s slate of recent regulations on the topic, and a surprising degree of convergence appears. They have much in common. These regimes broadly share the common goal of preventing AI’s misuse without restraining innovation in the process. Optimists have floated proposals for closer international management of AI, such as the ideas presented in Foreign Affairs by the geopolitical analyst Ian Bremmer and the entrepreneur Mustafa Suleyman and the plan offered by Suleyman and Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, in the Financial Times in which they called for the creation of an international panel akin to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to “inform governments about the current state of AI capabilities and make evidence-based predictions about what’s coming.”

But these ambitious plans to forge a new global governance regime for AI may collide with an unfortunate obstacle: cold reality. The great powers, namely, China, the United States, and the EU, may insist publicly that they want to cooperate on regulating AI, but their actions point toward a future of fragmentation and competition. Divergent legal regimes are emerging that will frustrate any cooperation when it comes to access to semiconductors, the setting of technical standards, and the regulation of data and algorithms. This path doesn’t lead to a coherent, contiguous global space for uniform AI-related rules but to a divided landscape of warring regulatory blocs—a world in which the lofty idea that AI can be harnessed for the common good is dashed on the rocks of geopolitical tensions.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

Artificial intelligence