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The AI Power Paradox

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The challenge is clear: to design a new governance framework fit for this unique technology.

Credit: Daniel Liévano

It's 2035, and artificial intelligence is everywhere. AI systems run hospitals, operate airlines, and battle each other in the courtroom. Productivity has spiked to unprecedented levels, and countless previously unimaginable businesses have scaled at blistering speed, generating immense advances in well-being. New products, cures, and innovations hit the market daily, as science and technology kick into overdrive. And yet the world is growing both more unpredictable and more fragile, as terrorists find new ways to menace societies with intelligent, evolving cyberweapons and white-collar workers lose their jobs en masse.

Just a year ago, that scenario would have seemed purely fictional; today, it seems nearly inevitable. Generative AI systems can already write more clearly and persuasively than most humans and can produce original images, art, and even computer code based on simple language prompts. And generative AI is only the tip of the iceberg. Its arrival marks a Big Bang moment, the beginning of a world-changing technological revolution that will remake politics, economies, and societies.

Like past technological waves, AI will pair extraordinary growth and opportunity with immense disruption and risk. But unlike previous waves, it will also initiate a seismic shift in the structure and balance of global power as it threatens the status of nation-states as the world's primary geopolitical actors. Whether they admit it or not, AI's creators are themselves geopolitical actors, and their sovereignty over AI further entrenches the emerging "technopolar" order—one in which technology companies wield the kind of power in their domains once reserved for nation-states. For the past decade, big technology firms have effectively become independent, sovereign actors in the digital realms they have created. AI accelerates this trend and extends it far beyond the digital world. The technology's complexity and the speed of its advancement will make it almost impossible for governments to make relevant rules at a reasonable pace. If governments do not catch up soon, it is possible they never will.

From Foreign Affairs
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