Who Will Govern Artificial Intelligence? Learning From the History of Strategic Politics in Emerging Technologies

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a strategic general purpose technology (GPT) with the potential to deliver vast economic value and substantially affect national security. The central claim motivating this work is that the development of a strategic GPT follows a distinct pattern of politics. By modelling this pattern, we can make predictions about how the politics of AI will unfold.

The proposed model follows a life cycle of a strategic GPT. It focuses on three actors – the state, firms, and researchers. Each actor is defined by their goals, resources and constraints. The model analyses the relationships between these actors – specifically, the synergies and conflicts that emerge between them as their goals, resources, and constraints interact.

Case studies of strategic GPTs developed in the U.S. – specifically aerospace technology, biotechnology, and cryptography – show that the model captures much of history accurately. When applied to AI, the model also does well to capture political dynamics to date and motivates predictions about how we could expect the politics of AI to unfold. For example, I predict that AI firms will be increasingly constrained by the legislative environment, and more pressured to serve national defense and security interests. Some will be caught in the cross-hairs of public critique and researcher push back; some, however, will willingly sell AI technologies to the state with little friction. Further, I predict that the political influence of researchers will shrink, going against what some may view as a rise in researcher influence given recent events of employee backlash in AI firms. In turn, the inclination and capacity for the state to exert control over AI’s development and proliferation will likely grow, exercised via tools such as export controls.

Artificial intelligence is going to matter greatly, and indeed, already does. It matters, then, that we understand the politics that surrounds it, and that we ultimately lay the groundwork for the governance of a technology that is poised to be transformative.

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