The Geopolitics of Artificial Intelligence

The Geopolitics of Artificial Intelligence

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Something stood out of the ordinary during a speech by China’s president, Xi Jinping, in January 2018. Behind Xi, on a bookshelf, were two books on Artificial Intelligence (AI). Why were those books there? Similar to 2015, when Russia “accidentally” aired designs for a new weapon, the placement of the books may not have been an accident. Was China sending a message?

If it was, perhaps, it was this: For decades, China has been operating in an Americanized-world. To escape, China is turning to AI.


By 2030, China wants to be the world’s leading AI power, with an AI industry valued at $150 billion. How does China plan to achieve this?

Take health care. Ping An, a large Chinese conglomerate, has unveiled AI doctors. It has launched clinics known as “One-Minute Clinic,” where AI doctors diagnose symptoms and propose medications. Within three years, Ping An plans to build hundreds of thousands of these clinics across China.

Could China export 10,000 AI doctors to Russia? Such a move would transform geopolitics.

The biggest impact is that it would shift the China-Russia relationship, from energy and currency, areas that the U.S. can influence, to Chinese AI, over which the U.S. has no control. The AI doctors may make Russian society more China-centric, and future generations in Russia may be more familiar with Ping An than with IBM or Intel.

There are other geopolitical implications too.

First, labor movements, which have long been a variable of geopolitics (e.g., H1B tensions between the U.S. and India, or treatment of Filipino maids in Middle East), would now revolve around the movements (and restrictions) of Chinese AI.

Second, China may, for the first time, create an ecosystem that the rest of the world depends on. The AI doctors may need to be programmed with local Russian regulations or health care rules, and Russian start-ups could emerge to fill this gap, or even to expand the role these AI doctors play. These Russian companies will be depending on a Chinese ecosystem, the same way U.S. companies like Uber and Lyft depend on American ecosystems like app stores.

Lastly, the huge amounts of data that the AI doctors will be collecting could be used by China to help its businesses. Chinese pharmaceutical companies, for example, could know about a virus that is emerging in St. Petersburg, and they could quickly manufacture drugs to treat this virus. China would have insight into Russia in a way no other country has ever had, including the U.S.


The U.S. should not try to stop China from taking its AI around the world. It’s too late for that. Instead, the U.S. should focus on controlling how Chinese AI behaves.

To do this, the U.S. should create the world’s first “AI Trade Organization” or AITO. Just like in the 20th century, when the U.S. created the World Trade Organization (WTO) to govern traditional trade, AITO would govern AI trade.

AITO would establish the international rules, ethics and standards for AI.

Of course, China, and others, may refuse to join AITO, for obvious reasons. But, those nations are not the target. The target is countries that China could take its AI to in the future.

For example, China may decide to take its AI to India. Already, I

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