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How AI power struggle opens up new frontier in global geopolitics

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The far-reaching influence AI has on information processing, national security, military operations, the economy, and strategic decision-making is set to reshape the geopolitical landscape and redefine the power dynamics between nations.

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As the race among nations to vie for the military, economic, and political benefits of () has already begun, geopolitics will influence how the full potential of the benefits of AI is realised. Geopolitical obstacles in the AI value chain, including the continuous need for funding, data, computing power, skilled talents, and infrastructure, present an ongoing challenge for most, if not all, nations.

Leadership in AI has emerged as a frontline of geo-strategic competition between the United States (US) and China. Not only is AI crucial for the defence of nations (via next-generation autonomous weapon systems), but it also transforms the way in which nations conduct politics by altering the way in which information is generated and disseminated, which is already raising concerns about how an adversary nation may utilise AI in deep-fakes and disinformation campaigns to negatively affect the social stability of other nations.

Challenges in achieving AI dominance

The challenge for governments worldwide is to find a way to strike a balance between promoting advanced AI capabilities and ensuring that necessary safeguards are in place to address any unforeseen consequences.  Nevertheless, the complexities of geo-strategic competition pose a significant obstacle in achieving this balance. Countries view any decrease in their own development and implementation of AI capabilities as a disadvantage, unless there are guarantees that other nations will follow suit.

Furthermore, the application and advancement of AI are not limited to the United States and China. The United Kingdom (UK), Canada, France, Singapore, India, and Israel, among others, are increasingly making their mark in the field of AI. The rise of advanced AI technologies offers a hopeful opportunity for countries such as Canada, the UK, France, and Israel to uphold their economic competitiveness and influence. Similarly, it is worth noting that numerous Middle Eastern nations have made significant strides in the global AI development arena.

AI development in the Middle East

The UAE and the Kingdom of (KSA) are pioneering the regional adoption of AI and have both recognised the strategic importance of AI in achieving their long-term economic and security goals. The UAE's AI Strategy 2031 and KSA's Vision 2030 are clear indicators of their ambition to harness the power of AI for economic diversification, innovation, and governance. Both nations have established dedicated AI councils and centres to drive research, development, and deployment of AI technologies across various sectors.

The (UAE) has recently unveiled the Artificial Intelligence and Advanced Technology Council (AIATC) as a sign of the UAE's firm intentions in developing and adopting technological advancements, including AI. AIATC, which is chaired by His Highness Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan and vice-chaired by Sheikh Khaled bin Mohamed Zayed Al Nahyan, is primarily tasked with developing and implementing policies and strategies associated with research, infrastructure, and investments in AI and advanced technologies in the UAE.

In addition, Abu Dhabi is setting up a new investment firm, MGX, which is targeting deals in the AI and semiconductor domains. In the next few years, the firm aims to manage assets exceeding $100 billion, and reports indicate that it is in talks with OpenAI for an ambitious expansion plan that includes AI infrastructure development and semiconductor production.

Earlier in year 2022, Abu Dhabi-based AI firm G42 announced a $10 billion fund in strategic partnership with Abu Dhabi Growth Fund (ADG), which is aimed at accelerating the pace of investing in global innovations. It is worth noting that the UAE was the first nation to appoint an AI minister since 2017 with the purpose of leading the UAE's strategy of becoming the most prepared country for AI, a clear sign of the UAE's strong political will to lead the when it comes to developing, adopting, and utilising AI capabilities across different domains.

On the other hand, KSA has been recently planning the creation of a $40 billion fund targeting global investments in AI, which would probably make KSA one of the top players in the AI development field worldwide. In 2019, KSA established the Saudi Authority for Data and Artificial Intelligence (SDAIA), which is directly linked to KSA's Crown Prince and Prime Minister, Prince Mohamed bin Salman Al Saud. Among SDAIA's main mandates is ensuring all government entities make greater use of data and AI, as well as maximising AI's contribution to the realisation of KSA's objectives under Vision 2030.

In this context, the UAE and, more recently, the KSA , have been strategically investing significant resources in AI research and development to enhance their economic competitiveness and influence on multiple fronts, including national security. However, such gigantic AI investments by these two regional powerhouses may likely drive a global competition that could reshape the dynamics of utilising AI in the Middle East and beyond. As with any advanced technology, the competition for AI dominance could lead to a race for technological supremacy and global influence.

Need for talent and expertise for AI

One key aspect of the global geopolitical competition in AI is the need for talent and expertise. Nations worldwide are actively attracting top AI researchers, engineers, and entrepreneurs from around the world to bolster their AI capabilities. The competition for talent could lead to brain drain in other regions and create a concentration of AI expertise in a certain geographic location, further enhancing the strategic importance of countries in the global AI landscape that are able to attract and retain AI talents.

Furthermore, different countries are forging strategic partnerships and alliances in the realm of AI, which could further fuel the geopolitical rivalry. As different countries establish partnerships with global AI leaders, such as the United States, China, and European countries, to access cutting-edge technologies, expertise, and investments, these alliances could deepen the geopolitical fault lines and create new power dynamics.

Moreover, AI technologies are already being leveraged for military applications, cybersecurity, surveillance, and information warfare, among other areas. Thus, if not managed responsibly by governing bodies, the utilisation of AI in military applications may have significant consequences for global security and spark a new arms race. AI is already revolutionising military operations and strategic planning. Autonomous weapons systems, driven by advanced AI algorithms, are revolutionising the battlefield by enhancing human soldiers and improving decision-making in real-time.

AI technologies, such as predictive analytics, image recognition, and unmanned aerial vehicles, are transforming warfare by enhancing military capabilities with greater precision, effectiveness, and efficiency. Therefore, the consequences of autonomous weapons and the growing significance of AI deployment in warfare continue to be crucial considerations in geopolitical forecasting.

Fundamental pillar of geopolitics

AI is poised to become a fundamental pillar of geopolitics in the 21st century. The far-reaching influence it has on information processing, national security, military operations, the economy, and strategic decision-making is set to reshape the geopolitical landscape and redefine the power dynamics between nations in the future.

With AI becoming increasingly prevalent, the responsible use of AI technologies will play a vital role in shaping geopolitics. It will be essential in promoting global stability, cooperation, and advancement in the digital era. In today's ever-evolving landscape of politics and global affairs, it is highly likely that AI will have a significant impact on the formulation of policies and strategies by governments, both at home and abroad.

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Dr. Mohamed ELDoh
Dr. Mohamed ELDoh
Dr. Mohamed ELDoh is a consulting professional in the defense and security sector. Mohamed holds a Doctorate degree from Grenoble École de Management - France, an MBA from the EU Business School- Spain, and an Advanced Certificate in Counterterrorism Studies from the University of St Andrews, UK.
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