Last year, China unveiled its development of a new artificial intelligence system for its foreign policy. It’s called a “geopolitical environment simulation and prediction platform,” and it works by crunching huge amounts of data and then providing foreign policy suggestions to Chinese diplomats. According to one source, China has already used a similar AI system to vet almost every foreign investment project in the past few years.
Consider what this development means: Slowly, foreign policy is moving away from diplomats, political-risk firms and think tanks, the “go-to” organizations of the past. Slowly, foreign policy is moving toward advanced algorithms whose primary objective is to analyze data, predict events and advise governments on what to do. How will the world look when nations are using algorithms to predict what happens next?
Predicting the Next Episode of Social Unrest
Alongside China, the U.S. is also developing predictive capabilities. In fact, the nation’s capabilities have become so advanced that, according to the CIA, in some cases, they can predict “social unrest and societal instability” three to five days in advance. How might the U.S. apply this technology? One way could be to give its multinationals a “heads-up” on possible disruption.
For example, in early 2019 Chennai and several other Indian cities were hit by a series of water shortages. As the months passed, the crisis intensified, leaving millions without water. By June 2019, protests had begun, with hundreds of people being arrested in one incident. Certain political parties have also begun calling on people to protest. As the water shortage continues, could major social unrest follow? If the U.S. predicts it will, then the country may inform several of its companies operating in India.
Major tech companies might be told that major social unrest is about to begin in India in the next 48 to 72 hours. With such intelligence, these companies could take action, be it moving employees to safe areas, boarding up offices or shifting operations to parts of India that will be stable. This is one possibility. Companies might use the predictions to protect their footprint (that is, physical security or operations). And there’s another possibility: they might use the predictions for business.
For example, one of Uber’s largest markets is India. It may not want to shut down there. Instead it might view the freshwater shortage as a new business opportunity. The company could, say, launch a new service to deliver freshwater to people for a marked-up price. While Uber’s competitors, from other countries, might be disrupted by the social unrest, Uber could profit from it. And it could use those profits to reward drivers or provide water to people who can’t afford it.
By sharing predictions, U.S. companies could have “foresight” that helps them navigate complex geopolitical events. At the same time, people all over the world may become more dependent on U.S. technology, as the nation’s companies offer solutions for situations that haven’t even happened yet.
Predicting the Future Geopolitical Landscape
Predicting what happens in another country is one thing. But what if one could predict what happens on the world stage?
For several years, a team in Japan has been working on a system to predict rate changes by the Bank of Japan. The system watches speeches by the bank’s governor to learn about his body language and facial expressions. Based on this, the AI can then predict what the governor will do. In one instance, the AI found that he looked “angry” and “disgusted” before introducing negative rates.
The engineers have also applied the system outside of Japan. In one case, it analyzed Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank (ECB). The system found that when Draghi appeared less enthusiastic at a press conference, it might mean the ECB would cut its stimulus. Could similar AI analyze world leaders and make predictions? For example, in June 2019 the leaders of China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Iran and several Central Asian nations met in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) gathering. The SCO is seen as a new Asian counterweight to groups that were created after World War II. Could an AI watch footage of the SCO gathering and come to conclusions?
Perhaps after watching a meeting between India and China, the AI might predict that New Delhi and Beijing will sign a series of new trade deals within the next six months. Or after watching a meeting between Russia and Iran, it could predict that Moscow and Tehran may see tensions rise with each other within the next two months.
While human analysts may miss these signs, an AI could be able to see them. And this could give countries unprecedented insight into what might happen next. Will the U.S. adjust its trade policy toward India if it predicts New Delhi and Beijing are growing closer? Or will China direct its companies to invest even more in Iran if it predicts a divergence between Iran and Russia? For the first time, countries might preemptively take steps on the world stage based on predictions made by algorithms.
Predicting a World Reshaped by Prediction
As nations turn to algorithms to predict events, foreign policy will be transformed. Nations will interact with one another knowing their every move may be predicted days, weeks or months in advance. Such a transformation will shift the world of business and geopolitics.
Could Germany warn its multinationals about a conflict in Africa months before it takes place? Or could Latin American nations work together to stop a civil war in the region weeks before it begins? Armed with predictions, companies and countries may deal with world affairs in brand-new and unexpected ways.
In the future, predicting world events could become the norm. Governments that don’t predict events may face havoc. Businesses that ignore predictions may become outcasts. And the only advantage available to countries might be to become more unpredictable than ever before.