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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Downside of High Tech

The ongoing global discourse delves into the dual nature of technology, highlighting its positive impact on society while grappling with emerging risks like cyber threats, misinformation proliferation, and the destabilizing potential of AI-driven military advancements amidst a lack of international regulatory frameworks.

An important worldwide discussion is underway about the disruptive influence of new technology. There is no doubt that current technology has been a force for good.  It has been responsible for countless positive developments. It has encouraged individuals , enhanced quality of lives while increasing efficiency through advanced medical and scientific awareness that has magnificently reshaped societies. Technological breakthroughs have helped to drive unparalleled social and economic advancements.

However the evolving fourth industrial revolution has also been chaotic while introducing new risks, which are not only fully understood but much less managed. A connected world is facing the uphill challenge of data protection as threats rise across the world. Data stealing , deception, cyberattacks , breache of confidentiality, are all part of rising risks.

Digital communication now commands our lives like never before. It brings untold pros but also presents new hazards. The episode of deceptive news for instance is not new. But its ubiquity today has much to do with digital advancement, which has produced multiple information channels and expansion of social media. Virtual platforms have become vehicles for the spread of misleading details. Fake news is easily shared widely due to the application of social media in a mostly unregulated environment. Continuous unethical practices in social media platforms has given internet bullies and suppliers of false stories the assurance that they will not be held accountable for their fabricated messages.

Emerging Risks

Deepfakes” doctored videos using artificial intelligence (AI) are now commonly used to mislead and distort younger generation.

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The profit motive and business model of social media companies prevent them from instituting real checks on controversial and sensational content irrespective of whether it is true or false. That means `digital wildfires` are rarely contained. Digital invention is also being exploited to commit crimes, recruit terrorists and spread hate, all of which imperil society. This presents unsurmountable challenges to social stability in what is now called the post-truth era.Digital technology is also driving polarisation and divisiveness within countries. Studies have pointed to its false impact on political systems and democracy.

In an article in the “European Journal of Futures Research in March 2022”, the authors wrote that `In times of scepticism and a marked dependence on different types of AI in a network full of bots, trolls, and fakes, unprecedented standards of polarisation and intolerance are intensifying and crystallising with the coming to power of leaders of dubious democratic reputation`. The connection between the rise of right-wing populist leaders and their cynical but effective deployment of social media is now well established.

Intelligent automation or machine intelligence presents many dangers such as occupation of privacy and compromise of multiple dimensions of security.

The biggest threat posed by autonomous weapons systems is that they can take decisions and even strategies out of human hands. They can independently target and offset rivals and operate without the benefit of human judgement or thoughtful calculation of risks. Today, AI is fuelling an arms race in lethal autonomous weapons in a new arena of superpower competition.

The Age of AI

The book, co-authored by “Henry Kissinger, Eric Schmidt and Daniel Huttenlocher”, The Age of AI: And our Hurnan Future, lays barethe dangers ahead.

AI has ushered in a new period of human consciousness, say the authors (Schmidt is Google`s former CEO),which`augers a revolutionin human affairs`.

This, they argue, can lead to human beings losing the ability to reason, reflect and conceptualise.It could in fact `permanently change our relationship with reality`.Their discussion of the military uses of AI and how it is used to fight wars is especiallyinstructive.

AI would enhance conventional, nuclear and cyber capabilities in ways that would make security relations between rivals more problematic and conflicts harder to limit. The authors say that in the nuclear era, the goal of national security strategy was deterrence. This depended on a set of key assumptions the adversary`s known capabilities, recognised doctrines and predictable responses.

Their core argument about the destabilising nature of AI weapons and cyber capabilities is that their value and efficacy stems from their `opacity and deniability and in some cases their operation at the ambiguous borders of disinformation, intelligence collection and sabotage … creating strategies without acknowledged doctrines`. They see this as leading to calamitous outcomes. They note the race for AI dominance between China and the US, which other countries are likely to join. AI capabilities are challenging the traditional notion of security and this insightful book emphasises that the injection of `nonhuman logic to military systems` can result in disaster.

Advanced new generation military technologies are a source of increasing concern because of their wide implications for international peace and stability. The remote-control war waged by US-led Western forces in Afghanistan over two decades involved the use of unmanned aerial vehicles or drones. This had serious consequences and resulted in the killing of innocent people. The use of a cyberweapon the Stuxnet computer worm by the US to target Iranian facilities in 2007 to degrade its nuclear programme was the first attack of its kind.

More recently, Russian and Ukrainian militaries are using remotely operated aerial platforms in the Ukraine conflict. Reliance on technology can confront countries at war with unexpected problems.

For example, frontline Ukrainian soldiers have faced outages of the internet satellite service which was supposed to prevent Russian forces from using that technology. This digital disruption is reported to have caused a crucial loss of communication between Ukraine`s military forces.

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Despite the risks and dangers of such new technologies, there is no international effort aimed at managing them much less regulating their use.

Thus there is no move by giant  super powers for any dialogue on cyber and AI arms control. If we are unable to regulate the global internet and  big social media companies continue to rake in excessive profits with out any fear of accountability ; then there is even less prospect of mitigating the destabilising effects of cyber and AI-enabled military capabilities.

Maryiam Shahid is a graduate in international relations.