By Om Prakash Dwivedi
Welcome to 2030! Generative AI has intruded workspaces, organisations, healthcare and education sectors, even battlefields. What sounded fictitious a few years back has become the quotidian reality of our lives. To put it another way, reality has become a metric that can be constructed and, therefore, manipulated by the politicking of technology. As T.S. Eliot said, “Between the idea and the reality/Between the motion and the act/Falls the Shadow.”
While there is strong logic to the argument that a democracy must involve civilians, the intrusion of AI has somehow changed that perspective as well. Within the ambit of generative AI, what matters more to modern-day democracies is how technology can be used to disrupt, demonise, and destabilise other states and borders. The spontaneity of AI in battlefields has become an automated choice. Underlined with ideological and xenophobic tendencies, the algorithm of AI decides which country will go to war, of course, for obvious reasons, the economy and the balance of global power have been overarching ones.
But this is 2023 now, a moment when generative AI is only the tip of the iceberg. It is also a moment when nation-states are gearing up to redefine the ways future battles will be fought, even designed and orchestrated. Because wars are directly linked to economies, generative AI looms large in a situation where it may trigger a tectonic shift in world economies and politics. While world leaders moot the pros and cons of using generative in security sectors, it cannot be denied that its shoehorning can pose serious questions on the very notion and practice of sovereignty.
What makes me say this? Well, it has become habitual of the existing superpowers to coerce developing nations and poor countries into wars while deriving profit and inflating both their economies and power. It is for these reasons, that China and US are already investing heavily in the field of AI.
Let us talk about China, a draconian force to reckon with presently. According to a 2023 report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) “China leads the world in 37 out of 44 critical technologies, with Western democracies falling behind in the race for scientific and research breakthroughs.” This robust push to invest in technological tools sums up why China may become the global power in the field of AI very soon. It has combined its military space with the civil space, therefore the commercial one, thus ensuring that technology becomes the governing spirit of its everyday life. As we understand, AI-enabled tools require a supply of semiconductors, and China already has a blueprint ready to invest more than $100 billion over the next few years.
In 2015, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) envisioned a Strategic Support Force (SSF), assigning them the task of gathering military information and defence needs in cyberspace. The success of SSF can be gauged from the fact that it also takes care of the Chinese Space Systems Department, that is meant to drive and guard all space-related missions. The SSF is also involved with the Chinese Network Systems Department, which stores information related to the PLA’s warfare activities.
China has wedded its future with technology. Precisely the reason why its 13th Five-Year Plan, also known as ‘13th Five Year Plan for Developing National Strategic and Emerging Industries (2016-2020)’ has plans for investment and integration of AI with other areas that cover robotics, industrial-scale mega projects or ‘AI 2.0’. The national plan ranks AI 6th amongst 69 major tasks that China has set in stone for its future growth, not to forget its dream of becoming a global superpower.
Likewise, in 2019, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) declared its 10th Defence White Paper (DWP), China’s National Defence in the New Era. This document remains unprecedented in the history of Chinese military reforms. The document advocated a reduction in the size of Chinese land forces while advancing the creation of five integrated Theatre Commands (TCs). The DWP reinforces Chinese dreams of becoming a global leader and a robust hub across the entire spectrum of AI technologies.
With plans to intensify its “intelligent military”, China is working rigorously to expand the contours of AI, ensuring its presence “on land, at sea and in the air.” This should be a wake-up call for international policymakers given China’s notoriety in dealing with issues of border, hacking, warfare, even biological viruses. The more authoritative the state is, the more threatening AI will become. While the immanent enemy of China is the US right now, it spells existential threat for India as well.
The last nail in the coffin for policymakers would be to see AI only as software. Because it is generative, it can keep manifesting itself depending on the needs and design of its makers and controllers. What matters in the prevailing race to become a superpower, is the investment of both ideas and economy in the field of AI. This is where India lags far behind China. According to the Delhi Policy Group, “the Indian military is allocating approximately US$50 million (€ 47.2 million) for AI spending each year.” Pitted against the Chinese investment, India’s budget allocation is 30 times less, which sums up the reason why India was so late in deliberating the use of Artificial intelligence in the military sector. It was in July 2022 that India organised its first-ever symposium on “AI in Defence.” Having understood the vitality of AI, the Indian Armed Forces has opened up gateways to include Autonomous Weapons Systems (AWS) and Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS) in their domain.
Technology will not only escalate wars but it will also determine its outcome. Future leadership will require not just insights into political science but also ability to harness skills of technological sciences. AI will become the strategic tool for every government very soon.
Contributing Author: Om Prakash Dwivedi teaches at Bennett University, Greater Noida. He tweets @opdwivedi82
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