Safety Not Guaranteed: International Strategic Dynamics of Risky Technology Races

The great powers appear to be entering an era of heightened competition to master security-relevant technologies in areas such as AI. This is concerning because deploying new technologies can create substantial shared risks, such as inadvertent crisis escalation or uncontrolled proliferation. We analyse a strategic model to determine when states deploy technologies before learning how to minimise their risks. When competitors are moderately adversarial or the technology laggard is not very capable, the laggard does not use a risky technology unless it catches up to the technology leader. By contrast, if competitors are highly adversarial and the laggard is closer to the leader’s capability level, the laggard is willing to cut corners to gamble for advantage, so that the shared risk falls if the laggard catches up. Further, when competitors are not deploying the riskiest technologies, steps to make those technologies safer will be attenuated or reversed by risk compensation.

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