While we’re on the subject of predictions… I’ve said before, back in TiB 92
, that I believe the 21st century will be a century of secessions. Firsr, technological, economic and military change is making the “minimum viable state” smaller (see, e.g., this Branko Milanovich piece
from 2019). Second, the long/short volatility divide discussed above is eroding the political-economic compact between big cities and their hinterlands that has (partly) held nation states together for the last couple of centuries. Some even argue - see the Parag Khanna and Balaji Srinivasan essay
we discussed in TiB 195
or Mario Gabriele’s recent piece “The Decentralized Country
” - that blockchain technologies will create new forms of political communities.
There is a potentially countervailing force, however, in the growing geopolitical importance of AI. Peter Thiel once said
, “Crypto is libertarian, AI is communist”. I’m not sure that’s quite right, but I do think crypto reduces the size of the minimum viable state and AI increases it. As we’ve discussed before
, scale matters in AI
. The equilibrium may be small states aligned to AI superpowers; I’ve linked several times before to Ian Hogarth’s essay “AI Nationalism
” and I think it remains essential reading on this. If the key security question of the second half of the twentieth century was “Whose nuclear umbrella are you under?”, its equivalent three decades from now may well be “Whose AI does your country run on?”. Small states will be viable, but they’ll have to pick a side.
What might it look like to live under the Chinese “AI umbrella”? Matt Sheehan at the Carnegie Endowment has a good piece this week
on China’s little discussed AI governance initiatives. He looks at recent publications from three different regulators, which lay out a vision for robust, reliable and explainable AI. Jack Clark at Import AI points out
that they add up to something more ambitious than anything yet implemented in the West. In Sheehan’s words:
The potential impact of these regulatory currents extends far beyond China. If the CAC follows through on certain requirements for algorithmic transparency and explainability, China will be running some of the world’s largest regulatory experiments on topics that European regulators have long debated
The pronouncements of Chinese tech regulators might be esoteric today, but in a world of sub-scale states - physical or virtual - they may come to take on profound importance.