« Artificial intelligence is the future … for all of humanity. … Whoever becomes a leader in this area becomes the ruler of the world. ”
detection algorithms. System of system paralysis. An “all-seeing digital system of social control. To non-experts these technologies seem incomprehensible – the stuff of science fiction and 1984. For the military and political leadership of authoritarian states, however, these are groundbreaking advances that could be the key to improving the international system. Perhaps most importantly, some of these technologies could be integrated sooner than people think. A prominent journalist in China and soon elsewhere says: “The Panoptikum is already here. ”
Big data and artificial intelligence (AI) are restructuring the geopolitical divide between nations that use their potential and those that don’t, changing the nature of conflicts, empowering asymmetric and non-state actors, and bringing increasing returns for first movers. Just as oil played a key role in the major geopolitical conflicts of the 20th. Contributing to the twentieth century, the politics of data and artificial intelligence are also quickly becoming the politics of international security, for better or for worse.
The Department of Defense’s 2018 AI Strategy states: “AI refers to the ability of machines to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence – such as recognizing patterns, learning from experience, drawing conclusions, making predictions, or taking action seize -. whether digital or as intelligent software behind autonomous physical systems. “The United States is currently the world leader in such technologies, but its national security bureaucracy is poorly configured to take advantage of this.
In particular, the government is overriding the very agency that could both lead to the global political challenges of AI and benefit from the application of AI to the way it works. I am, of course, talking about the State Department.
Yes, you read that right: in order for the United States to win the data wars, the State Department should become a leading agent of the Interactors in AI.
While the AI and national security debate has focused primarily on its applications in warfare, espionage, and homeland security (including election security), it has so far missed the critical relevance of AI to American diplomacy. This is a mistake, as AI will be crucial in the decades to come both as a high-level agenda item in the strategic competition against digital authoritarianism and as a tool for more responsive, informed and effective policymaking abroad.
AI is the next security threat to “gray rhinos”: an event that is slow to build up and when it finally occurs it can be even more disruptive than traditionally recognized threats such as interstate rivalries or terrorism. As such, it deserves a positive, cross-cutting agenda for digital democracy, which the State Department advocates. The department is uniquely positioned to lead this agenda, harnessing the interdependent security, human rights, and economic dimensions of AI to advance governance in line with American values. In this context, the State Department can also help address the “institutional imbalance” of militarized foreign policy and empower civilian diplomats by using AI in the way they work, including areas such as strategic planning, crisis response and other core diplomatic functions.
The ongoing pandemic has added so-called gray rhinos to the national security community’s concept of threats. In addition to diseases and the accelerating climate crisis, AI represents the third such threat, but unfortunately it is not adequately equipped in the current foreign policy budget planning. While the defense budget treats AI as a technological innovation to protect against other threats, national security and defense strategies do not treat it as a significant threat in its own right.
This is a bug. When poorly managed, the economic, security, and human rights impacts of authoritarian AI pose a serious threat to the American way of life and should be planned and prioritized accordingly. First and foremost, frontier technologies form a digital battlefield for competition between the US, China and Russia. China, in particular, has focused its diplomatic and state capitalist efforts on shaping a global approach to digital governance that enables unrestricted domestic surveillance and state violations of freedom of expression. These efforts are not only a mercantilist attempt to replace the AI leadership of American corporations with Chinese state-owned companies, but are also intended to forge an international order that reflects China’s abusive domestic system. These techno-authoritarian models of digital governance are in direct contrast to American values and pose a threat to U.. S.. . Leadership in issues of human rights, economic security and protection of intellectual property. AI enables disinformation campaigns and electoral impairments (e.g.. G. by generative networks that are used to create deepfakes) and by more advanced cyber attacks that avoid detection and should therefore be regulated internationally as an anti-democratic force multiplier.
So far, however, the USA has reacted defensively and ad hoc to the positive strategic steps taken by competitors. Due to the Donald Trump administration’s hostility to multilateralism, the United States has not yet taken a leading role in defining and disseminating a Western vision for global AI collaboration. Rather than responding piecemeal through thematic bilateral agreements, the United States should position its diplomacy to credibly advance a positive agenda for digital democracy to shape AI in line with its interests and values.
What would such an agenda look like? First, it would prioritize emerging digital dimensions of human rights and personal freedoms – the right to be forgotten, personal ownership of data, and transparent algorithmic justice in government and law enforcement, to name a few. Second, it would be essentially multilateral, as no country can protect its citizens from malicious uses of AI on its own. Recent calls for a « T-12 » alliance of democratic and technological leaders recognize the fundamentally transnational nature of AI, and the establishment of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s AI Policy Observatory is a promising start. Beyond creating common standards in all countries that represent at least a large number of global GDP, the multilateralization of the AI agenda allows for easier pooling of research and regulatory innovations, so that free societies instead of techno-authoritarian ones continue to lead the way in technology stay yourself.
Some specific ideas that should be considered include creating international standards for a « personal data set » and interoperability between platforms so that a consumer’s existing data does not anticompetitively tie them to their current social network or health care provider. a digital concert of liberal democracies with data protection standards, which extends the scope of current regional approaches such as the General Data Protection Regulation of the European Union; Updating the laws of war to include transparent standards for conflict in cyberspace (a “Cyber Geneva Convention”); or a broader framework for global governance of data and privacy to protect civil society, democracy and human rights.
Why is diplomacy – and not defense or industrial policy – the right place to drive an agenda for digital democracy or something like that? Simply put, the multi-dimensional and transnational nature of AI requires an integrated, strategic approach, and diplomats are uniquely capable of making policy across these issues, more than the sum of their parts. To channel former French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, AI is too important to be left to the generals – or the technologists – alone.
So far, the government’s focus on AI has been mainly research and development investments in the Department of Defense or efforts by the White House Science and Technology Policy Office to capitalize on it as an innovative economic godsend. Unfortunately, this approach – including handing much of the intergovernmental standardization of AI to peer-to-peer military discussions – misses the strategic forest for the tactical trees. Problem-specific approaches that aim at global AI only as a military instrument or as an economic blessing have two dangerous shortcomings: They largely ignore AI as a human rights problem and give up the potential for alliances and problem links in various policy areas. For example, U’s existing efforts have not been used effectively. S.. . Technology leadership to promote global norms aligned with Western values or to use foreign aid to promote inclusive digital development on a large scale.
The foreign ministry diplomats have a comparative advantage over colleagues from the cooperation when it comes to correcting precisely these deficiencies. Capable of solving global problems, diplomats are well placed to play a leading, orchestral role in advancing a concerted American vision for AI in terms of business, security and human rights. In Washington, in their posts and in multilateral organizations, diplomats spend much of their days integrating the competing perspectives of peer agencies in order to drive a concerted U.. S.. . Agenda; Use of national instruments of power such as foreign aid, military aid or visa regulations to advance different goals on different issues; and negotiations in bilateral and multilateral fora on economic, political, human rights and military matters. The State Department’s continued leadership role in international organizations, which will play an important role in governing digital technologies, is another underutilized benefit. The White House is wrong not to include the State Department as a “key agency” in its AI strategy. Indeed, the department can be the key agency that combines disparate subject-specific efforts so that the result is greater than the sum of its parts.
Aside from its leadership potential on AI as an international political issue, the State Department has three key advantages in applying AI technologies to the way it works, in increasing its value in the foreign policy decision-making process between agencies, and in regaining some of the leverage It has ceded to the Department of Defense and the National Security Council over the past few decades. First, the State Department has an exclusive, novel dataset of millions of diplomatic cables that represents a century of collective knowledge of foreign governments and societies. Second, it has a unique overseas infrastructure for the collection of open information in the form of embassies and diplomats. Third, the company has one of the best skilled workers in the federal government. The incoming foreign service officials have, on average, a master’s degree and a decade of professional experience. By activating these assets and using AI as a force multiplier, the department can contribute more to the policy-making process between agencies by bringing original and rigorous insights into national security debates. America’s oldest cabinet agency, often categorized as bogged down in the past, longing for an imaginary diplomatic golden age, and averse to technological reform, can regain leadership by investing in AI as a tool for scenario planning, crisis response, and innovative policy analysis. While frontier technologies eventually find their way into most areas of the department, there are a few areas that are most important in the short term to have immediate impact.
Prediction platforms, similar to those commercially available in the political risk industry today – and some prototyped by peer agencies – are notable for their ability to use micro-level data (e.g.. G. , Credit card purchases, social media posts, and search engine trends) to predict geopolitical events at the macro level in ways that no human could see on their own. Unfortunately, the State Department today is unique among foreign ministries in that it uses almost no quantitative scenario modeling in its strategic planning, which limits the usefulness of its crisis forecasting or strategic planning, which is too often based on anecdotes and experience, without adequately testing hypotheses or assumptions.
Peer agencies can point the way to a better process. For the crisis forecast, for example, the U. . K. . The Federal Foreign Office has created a platform on which hundreds of thousands of hyperlocal news sources can be automatically translated and analyzed in order to identify early warning signs of humanitarian crises and violent extremism. For longer-term forecasts, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity’s Aggregative Contingent Estimation program uses advanced analyzes to aggregate not only data but also the wisdom of the crowd: the program determines the probability of occurrences of many intelligence analysts and then weights them using algorithmic methods Techniques on factors such as past performance and « cognitive style » that provide more systematic estimates than any analyst could individually provide. Even in the political decision-making process, AI can significantly empower human analysts by absorbing orders of magnitude more information and applying human-defined rules and principles more consistently. This will test long-held assumptions, challenge well-documented cognitive biases, examine patterns of history rather than relying on simple analogies, and expand analytical sources such as social media, satellite imagery, and user-generated video content.
Where would the data that feed these prediction engines come from? Fortunately, in data science parlance, the State Department is on a « novel set of data » – a unique set of data that it owns but has not yet fully used. For decades, the collective knowledge of diplomats around the world has been transcribed, shared and stored in cables. U. . S.. . Diplomats have documented everything from the department’s grand strategy to individual meetings with foreign officials. This cable corpus is America’s diplomatic equivalent of a « knowledge diagram ». However, unlike those who control the functionality of Facebook and Google, it has never been fully used to assist diplomats in their work. Much foreign policy analysis these days involves manually stepping through this knowledge graph, consuming hundreds of cables per week. This leads to a political process that is overly anecdotal and predictably subject to human cognitive prejudices against action, the preservation of credibility, and parochial notions of national interests. AI-powered features like enhanced search, natural language processing, and natural language generation can extend this type of work to help diplomats quickly make connections they would otherwise not have discovered, such as:. B.. by identifying behavioral patterns of the state and analyzing previous interactions with strangers, executives and evaluating alternative approaches.
This does not mean that AI is a magic bullet in the craft of foreign politics. For example, pattern recognition algorithms can fail in the face of truly unprecedented events. State behavior often results from the aggregation of thousands of individual decisions made by idiosyncratic individuals in different environments, resulting in wide error bars in human and machine-made forecasts. Last but not least, effective prediction engines depend on a variety of high quality training data that requires up-front investment to analyze, clean up, and validate. Even the Department of Defense – with its enormous resources – has done anything but perfectly.
By and large, the advanced analytics can vastly enhance, rather than automate, the traditional diplomatic craft, thereby enabling the State Department to make world-class contributions to the interagency process and enable its staff to move up to higher levels focus. Worth chores. To take a relatively low-tech example, if annual releases like the Human Trafficking Report look less like 300-page narrative PDFs and more like the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 dashboard, State Department analysts could spend more time Explain why trends and events happen instead of just describing what happened. Aside from technical improvements, upgrading the Department of State’s settings, training and education practices to augment diplomatic expertise with the insights of AI can multiply the value the Department of State brings to overseas policy making.
Unfortunately, the current State Department structure is not optimized for the potential to use AI as a top political priority and transformative way of working. As Jared Cohen and Richard Fontaine recently noted, advanced technology “is not simply a functional niche problem buried in an overcrowded foreign policy agenda. it is a central element of modern geopolitical competition. The realignment of the State Department and its people to compete for great powers in the borderline technologies is indeed a central point of the report of the National Security Commission for Artificial Intelligence for the second quarter, but has received relatively little attention. Across the Foreign Service – traditionally generalist diplomats who switch between overseas and Washington missions – and in the civil service – usually Washington-based officials with relatively specialized training and lengthy deployments – general AI reforms, advanced analytics, and fluid frontier technology are ambitious and yet reachable.
First, the State Department should accelerate structural changes that increase the importance of AI and related frontier technology in security, business and human rights silos. Currently, cyber policy (broadly defined) is managed by a dedicated cyber coordinator in the Foreign Minister’s office. Last June, the department proposed a new cybersecurity and emerging technologies office. However, progress in the creation of this new office has stalled as House Democrats withhold their approval and the Government Accountability Office finds that the state did not include key Interagent actors in its design. Establishing a cybersecurity and emerging technologies office as a permanent home for diplomacy on advanced technology issues is a start, but the new office will be under the Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, potentially disregarding the economic and human rights aspects of AI. Today, for example, cybersecurity issues are handled by the cyber coordinator, while « critical communications infrastructure » issues are overseen by the Business and Economics Bureau, breaking up interdependent issues on a bureaucratic basis.
No bureaucratic structure is perfect, but to remedy that, the State Department should establish a permanent digital human rights office in the Office for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, and encourage frequent staff-level coordination between entities like the Office for Cybersecurity and Emerging Technologies and their colleagues from the fields of business and human rights. However, beyond a single focus, the Foreign Ministry should integrate or include AI and frontier technology diplomacy in its work. The most recent proposals include the creation of a “science cone” in the Foreign Service or the appointment of dedicated technology policy officers in every important regional and functional office.
Beyond structuring the State Department to run AI as a policy area, education and training reforms can better prepare the diplomatic workforce to take advantage of AI as an analytical skill. Ultimately, the State Department’s most important asset is its people, and it is that workforce that should view the use of advanced analytics as an advantage, not an obstacle. When incorporating new technology into the work of the State Department, senior officials should focus on empowering America’s top professional diplomats to save time, provide new insights, and serve as a multiplier for foreign policy forces. At the same time, overseas service workers must be given training opportunities to understand the value of such tools in their day-to-day activities and professional incentives to acquire new skills that will enable them to use technology to make better decisions. Just as nuclear physicists were deeply embedded in the Iranian negotiating team for the Iran deal to combine the intricacies of the scientific specialty with diplomatic expertise. Century. S.. . Diplomats need at least « conversation analysis » to integrate the data science and geopolitical issues at the core of the strategic competition between liberal democracy and surveillance authoritarianism.
Historically, this type of specialization counteracts the cultural grain of the State Department, which prides itself on adaptable generalism and workplace learning, particularly in the External Action Service. As noted in several recent reports on the future of diplomacy, the move away from « born, not made » will be vital in equipping diplomats to effectively guide agency between agencies on transnational issues of growing importance, and like me in Das Foreign Service Journal is more like a story of diplomatic professionalism than is usually assumed. AI and other growing needs from professionals can help the department better integrate professional education into diplomatic careers and reach the moment by investing in its core asset: its people.
Such a transformation is not possible without the allocation of resources to Congress and sponsorship of senior executives in the State Department. With some changes and investments, the State Department is well positioned to publish a democratic digital agenda aligned with American values and to use investments in AI to transform its diplomatic and foreign policy functions. When discussing AI and innovation in government, it is common to fetishize technology and insist on its central role in transformation. However, technological innovations should go hand in hand with an accompanying cultural change, and leaders across the department should define the value of those innovations and communicate them to the mission of diplomacy.
Skepticism about technology is as old as the diplomatic profession itself: when the British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston received his first telegraph message in the 1860s, he exclaimed, for example, « My God, this is the end of diplomacy! » However, if used properly, AI can empower (rather than replace) career diplomacy like never before and put civilian foreign policymakers back in the driver’s seat at home and abroad by leading a major security threat to « gray rhinos » and improving decision-making.
Ryan Dukeman (@RyanDukeman) is a Senior Fellow at FP21 and Ph. D.. . Student at Princeton University, where he researches institutional reform in U.. S.. . foreign policy agencies. Before that he was involved in founding the U.. S.. . State Department Center for Analytics.
He is grateful to Garrett Berntsen for the full feedback and collaboration on previous drafts of this article. The views presented here are those of the author alone.
Diplomacy, US State Department, Foreign Policy, Donald Trump, International Affairs
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