AI is a 'weapon of mass disruption', Ian Bremmer warns

The Eurasia Group president shares his views on AI's big year, the political implications of the Turkey-Syria earthquakes, Elon Musk's various jobs and what he expects from the UAE as host of Cop28

Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, at the World Government Summit in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National
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The advent of artificial intelligence is at a “tipping point” in 2023, weaponising the internet for rogue actors with dangerous implications for the private sector and citizens around the world.

So warns Ian Bremmer, the Eurasia Group president and political scientist who advises global leaders and Fortune 500 executives on the risks shaping our future.

Eurasia Group's 2023 Top Risks Report dubs AI and frontier technology “weapons of mass disruption”, warning that as technology advances it “will erode social trust, empower demagogues and authoritarians and disrupt businesses and markets”.

An arms race has been publicly under way among Big Tech players ever since generative AI platform ChatGPT went viral in November.

While there have been notable errors (Microsoft's Bing has gone a bit rogue with answers in recent days), all of the major companies in the West and China have an AI strategy and are pouring massive amounts of talent and capital into realising their largest ambitions.

Using the example of retail investors on Reddit pumping the stock price of GameStop to a 1,600 per cent gain in early 2021, Mr Bremmer proposed a scenario where the online conversation was bolstered by generative AI bots.

“What happens when that gets turbocharged by generative AI? You suddenly have bots that are really, really credible, that are driving that kind of exploit and bringing down a big company,” he said in an interview with The National.

“What happens if there is a new vaccine, or a new pandemic, God forbid, and generative AI is used in an unprecedented way to push a major anti-vax campaign?”

The AI chatbot ChatGPT dubbed the threats posed by AI and frontier tech “weapons of mass disruption”, which is what Mr Bremmer used to name the risk.

For now, there is very little in the way of effective regulation to protect online users from misinformation or bot-generated content. And there won't be, Mr Bremmer predicted, until a major crisis forces lawmakers to act.

“There are lots of nascent problems. None of them have yet become crises that get to the top of our national security agenda,” he said.

“One of them will, in short order, and when it does, we will hammer that nail, we will hammer it hard, we may break things, but that's where we're going.”

Political consequences of the Turkey earthquake

This week, the UN launched a $397 million appeal to help about five million Syrians across the border in the rebel-held north-west.

Mr Bremmer was circumspect about aid reaching Syrians.

“The Syrians are so disastrous in terms of what they're willing to let in,” he said.

The UN's $1 billion appeal to help 5.2 million survivors In Turkey is likely to be more effective, but he expressed concern over the leadership's disaster response.

“In Turkey, I think that [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan recognises how high the stakes are. He's letting everybody in,” Mr Bremmer said.

Mr Erdogan is facing a competitive election later this year after 20 years in power but Mr Bremmer said he was likely to be victorious.

“Erdogan is probably going to win, but this election is going to be very hard fought and is going to be largely about this tragedy, as opposed to about the economy and about creeping authoritarianism. That means it's more of a wild card.”

Elon Musk's many CEO jobs

Elon Musk addressed the World Government Summit in Dubai remotely this week, and Mr Bremmer, an outspoken commentator on the billionaire's many exploits, took the stage directly after him.

He told The National he took aim not at Mr Musk but at the “sovereignty” granted to major players in technology.

Mr Bremmer said the centralised power of the major companies is making them at least as powerful as governments and elected leaders in instances of great geopolitical import.

This was the case when Elon Musk's Starlink and Microsoft opted to stand up the cloud and internet access in the early days of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which allowed Ukrainians to co-ordinate and withstand the early days of fighting.

Mr Musk, the chief executive of SpaceX, Tesla and Twitter, is a looming confrontation for the US, Mr Bremmer said.

SpaceX is effectively a US military-industrial national champion, given its major contracts with the Pentagon and Nasa that have major implications for national security, according to Mr Bremmer.

Meanwhile, Tesla's AI development, the supply chain for its batteries and largest market potential all lie with China.

“I think they're headed for confrontation,” he said. “And [Musk] is going to become increasingly deeply uncomfortable.”

Expectations for Cop28 in the UAE

Mr Bremmer said he had high expectations of the UAE as host of the UN Cop28 climate summit at the end of the year.

The gathering is being held in the Middle East for the second consecutive year, after Cop27 was hosted by Egypt at Sharm El Sheikh in 2022.

Mr Bremmer said the UAE “has more responsibility than the Egyptians did, because people expect a lot more from the UAE”.

“If this was 10 years ago, they might not have. But today they do.

“The UAE is playing a bigger role on the global stage. They are becoming a global conduit for conversations.”

He cited the UAE's leadership on technology and efforts to drive an agenda on an energy transition.

“The Cop process is not broken, but it is increasingly becoming bilateral, in terms of where we're getting things done,” Mr Bremmer said.

“It's not clear to me that top level, we're seeing the kind of progress globally that we really need because there's so little trust from the [global] South of the West and also because there's so little co-ordination and alignment among the world's major economies.

“I'm very, very bullish on how fast technology is changing and how much investment is going into it. And I'm very, very bearish about the geopolitical environment.”

Updated: October 04, 2023, 6:38 AM