Artificial Intelligence and International Relations

AI for Human Security
Artificial Intelligence and International Relations

In the 1830s, Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace envisioned the first machine capable of performing complex computations. By the 2030s, over 800 million people are expected to lose their jobs to robots (Mckinsey, 2017), with 9% of India’s workers facing a similar fate.

The exponential growth of technology has made many miracles possible, but it has also made it difficult for people and societies to adapt to changes. Technologies such as social media and data mining have grown unchecked at a dizzying pace, and it is only now that civil society and institutions are reckoning with the damage these can leave in their wake, including increasing existing disparities (Miller et. al, 2016).

Artificial Intelligence is now being seen as the harbinger of the next technological era – and it has the potential to redefine international relations in a radically unprecedented manner. The aim of this research paper is to thus understand what AI is, what possibilities and challenges it poses in the realm of international relations, and how India can position itself to best benefit from this emerging field.

The Dawn of AI

In 1997, IBM’s chess-playing computer Deep Blue had defeated Grandmaster Gary Kasparov in a series of contentious matches. The win of the machine was seen as the first sign that computer makers and software engineers had finally begun to realize their dreams of making a machine ‘as smart as’ human beings.

Intelligence is defined as the ability to ‘think rationally, act purposefully, and deal effectively with the challenges of one’s environment (Wechsler, 1994). By the product of evolution and learning, human beings are capable of problem-solving, decision-making, and adapting to situational factors. Artificial Intelligence is basically about extending these abilities to machines. AI is thus the ability of a machine to take stock of its surroundings and chose those behaviors from a given option that lead to the greatest chance of success.

Artificial Intelligence has long roots, back to the 1950s as an academic discipline, and even deeper into human history as fictional beings. The term was formally coined by John McCarthy in 1956. The concept did not pick up great interest, however, and by the 1970s and early 80s, scientists found difficulty in funding AI projects in the USA. The field revived alongside the rapid development in computing. With increases processing power and data that the machines could ‘learn’ from, the field of AI developed at an exponential pace, going from chess strategies to allowing driverless cars to ply on the roads within two decades (Lipson & Kurmab, 2016).

Artificial Intelligence and International Relations

While many imagine AI as an endless battalion of humanoid robots doing household tasks or taking over the world, the scope of artificial intelligence is much broader. It is a general technology, much like electricity, and can be applied nearly anywhere humans can think of. Indeed, such is the potential of Artificial Intelligence that Russian President Vladamir Putin said in 2017 that those who control AI will rule the world (Fortune, 2017).  This viewpoint is shared by many leaders and populations across the world and forms the first dimension of Artificial Intelligence – the International Relations dimension.

The Quest for AI Dominance

AI has a lot to offer to those who get to mass implementation first. Lights out, humanless factories can cut production time and costs in half, driving up manufacturing of everything from soaps to new factory complexes themselves. Drones and other automated stealth weapons can allow the infiltration of sovereign territories without soldier aid, enabling precision strikes on enemies. At the same time, AI surveillance has also put civilian populations under the scanner, making it difficult to get away with what the law deems unacceptable (Scott, Heumann & Lorenz, 2018).

No company or country is likely to give away its AI secrets, which means that all nations must develop their own. This, however, puts many nations at a disadvantage. Like other general-purpose technologies, Artificial Intelligence cannot be reached by leapfrogging – in order to develop effective AI, countries need to develop their digital infrastructure. For poorer countries, this means a virtually impossible battle with countries that have had decades and powerful private players to help them get started on the AI race. The USA currently has over two thousand companies engaged in the industry of artificial intelligence. State bolstered efforts (Roberts et. al, 2020) have put China right at the cutting edge of innovation, and many believe that the country may become the leading AI expert of the world by 2030. If it manages to do so, China is likely to shape global politics till 2100 (Gill, 2020).

Both the USA and China are backed by solid infrastructure and the ability to spend big money on research and development. In the context of international relations, this can lead to a unipolar or bipolar model of international relations, where these two Eastern and Western giants dictate the laws of international politics, much like they do on a limited scale even today. USA’s military and economic might and China’s growing dominance as the factory of the world have already made other state agents wary of them, with many deferring to their needs and demands. If the two are successful in capturing the lead on AI power, it may lead to an even more disparate world, and perhaps a Cold-War style technological race to emerge on the top, which could leave other nations struggling to catch up.

Given the near-constant state of tension that India has with China, its emergence as an AI leader can put a severe dent in India’s interests, and even sovereign territories. India has been able to keep the Chinese off its borders through a mix of military might and strategic and diplomatic efforts. Should China gain the lead in AI, however, it could shift the balance in the favor of the People’s Liberation Army, enabling them to conduct low-cost, distant warfare strategies on the Sino-Indian border (Bommakanti, 2020). India thus needs to step up and actively engage in the realm of AI in order to ensure that its interests remain protected.

Tentative steps in this direction have been taken. India’s think tank NITI Ayog released a national strategy for Artificial Intelligence in 2018, focusing on the five sectors of Healthcare, Agriculture, Education, Smart Cities, and Infrastructure, and Smart Mobility and Transportation. While the defense and foreign angle remain untouched as of now, the internal development of homegrown AI can go a long way in bolstering India’s position in international relations.

            The Changing Structure and Processes of International Relations

 The emergence of Artificial Intelligence and its rapid proliferation has begun to change fundamental international structures and processes in many ways. One significant area is that of the military, where AI systems are being trained to respond to threats, mostly through Human-In-The-Loop-Systems (HITLS), where an authorized person makes the final decision. South Korea is known to have placed such an automatic weapon system in its volatile border shared with North Korea (Velez-Green, 2015). Changing military landscape has always been a driver of a changed international structure – post the fall of the Soviet Union, America emerged as the leader of a unipolar world on the back of its military (and economic might). As discussed above, AI now enables the same potential that nuclear power once did in the realm of international relations.

AI can also be a gamechanger in espionage and intelligence, ranging from manufacturing destabilizing fake news and campaigns against enemy states to preventing human agents from working inside the country through surveillance (Deeks, 2018)

On a more mundane level, AI can help diplomats tackle an ever-growing volume of information by culling out patterns and information that enable better decision-making. Another possible implementation is  that of ‘running scenarios’, wherein different strategies and possibilities are fed into an AI system, which then calculates the possible outcomes.

It is also important to note that AI in itself is becoming a topic of concern, contention, and collaboration in international relations. The United Nations, the highest body of international relations present in the world today, has begun to convene and question the nature and implications of AI for the world (UNICRI, 2015). It has also become a topic hotly debated by think tanks and scholars, who often reach across international boundaries for comments and examples.

Artificial Intelligence has been seen by many as the next step in a series of blindingly fast technological advancements that begin with personal computers, and include the internet, smart devices, social media, and now, AI. Though all of these are different branches of technology, for many, they represent the same concerns about privacy, surveillance, and freedom. Deepfakes – the replacement of elements of a video with something different to create a new, synthetic media, is one concern that epitomizes this issue. Leveraging techniques of machine learning and artificial intelligence, deepfakes can effectively make anybody say or do something that they never did. Deepfakes have become a concern in fake news, revenge porn, and hoaxes. Apart from the concerning implications for domestic and international politics, deepfakes represent a personal challenge to individuals, especially women, who have been the victim of nonconsensual pornographic content being created in their likeliness (Cole, 2019).

Public opinion and dissent is not something to be discounted easily. No matter what a state’s strategic interests and benefits from AI, public discourse can be very powerful in shaping how the future of AI plays out, just like it was the case with nuclear weapons. A number of noted industralists and scientists, including Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates and Elon Musk, have expressed their concerns about the implications of AI for humans. Vernor Vinge’s concept of singularity – the allegedly inevitable point where machine intelligence becomes greater than organic intelligence, could spell doom for humanity.

While it such a doomsday scenario is dismissed by many as dystopian science fiction, it is important to remember that it took AI only two decades to go from chess to driving cars. Even half a century may be enough for AI to reach the point of singularity. If technology continues on its current path, concerns about singularity and the mass proliferation of AI is likely to be a main concern in international relations in a few years.

New Economic Order

 In an ideal scenario, the development of AI factories would have meant a decentralized system of production which would have increased self-reliance and reduced dependencies on other nations and agencies.

However, apart from issues of privacy and the future of humanity, the immediate economic implication of AI is perhaps one of the most concerning issue for individuals. Most projections today suggest that millions will be out of work in the next few years as production replaces huma workers with AIs. This change will impact both blue-collar and white-collar jobs. In the former, AI-enhanced robots can undertake dangerous work without putting humans in danger, and in  the latter, AI may simply be able to do things better and lead to better outcomes (Sokmen, Inci, & Alaca, 2019).

It is important to remember that the development of AI is taking place in a very unequal playing ground – both internally and internationally. As discussed above, artificial intelligence has been thriving in countries that already have economic and technological strongholds. It is likely that they may reach automation first, producing products and services at a rate so competitive that ‘traditional’ factories would be unable to compete. This in turn would lead to greater wealth flow into these nations, thus increasing international economic inequality.

Within nations too, those already disadvantaged are likely to suffer first. AI will bring job loss, but it will also bring new job opportunities. However, displaced white-collar workers are likely to be in a much better position that factory floor workers in grasping new opportunities. After all, a job in artificial intelligence would require formal education and training, which are already inaccessible to the poor (Collins, 2014).

The economic implications of AI may be particularly challenging for India. The country has the world’s youngest working population, and deep economic inequalities. Entering the realm of AI in a way that ensures that the countr is able to meet other nations in the international sphere head-on while protecting its population’s best interests may be a significant challenge for the country in the coming years.


At this point in time, the emergence of artificial intelligence as a dominant technological force is more of less inevitable. However, charting its possibilities and outcomes is a difficult task, given the volatile nature of technological development, the personal and strategic interests of corporate and stage agencies, and the secrecy surrounding the development of artificial intelligence if fields like military and espionage.

This makes determining the impact of AI on international relations an even harder task. However, there are some broad patterns that are beginning to emerge. Much like the space race or nuclear proliferation, the quest for dominant AI power has the potential to rewrite international relationships permanently. Alongside, public perception and concerns about technology are likely to constrain state agencies, who will either have the option to bend down or to override its own populations. With major public personalities increasingly debating the pros and cons of artificial intelligence in public, artificial intelligence is likely to come under the radar or international governing bodies, and policies on the ethics of AI are around the corner.





By Niharika Rawat

Research Intern – CHSS


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *