At the heart of foresight work lies the analysis of domains that shape the future. It is in the convergence of these domains that the future emerges. Geopolitics is one complex area of convergence that has massive implications to an uncertain future. In a recent article, Ariel Kastner explores seven views on how technology will shape geopolitics. The World Economic Forum asked members of the Global Future on Geopolitics to offer their views on technology and its impact on geopolitics in the coming year. This specific quote from the article says it well:
The concept of nations as sole interlocuters is passe. Governments, businesses and individuals will have to meet the political challenges posed by emergence of technology jointly and across borders. This, in turn, will have a profound effect on geopolitical trends and indeed on the arrangements and institutions that moderate global politics.
Samir Saran, President, Observer Research Foundation (ORF)
This visual depicts several of the geopolitical factors to consider when looking at possible futures. The visual below shows the combinatorial effect of these factors as they converge with science, technology, and several emerging scenarios. The result is innovation in ways that both enhance society and diminish it. In a world filled with geopolitical conflict, perhaps as the article states, it is innovation that can serve as a fabric for strengthening cross-border coordination. Here are key thoughts from the other six individuals that provided a perspective.
“Every connection between nations — from energy flows to IT standards — becomes a tool of geopolitics. Most worrying is the danger of this technological competition escalating out of control and threatening global security. If the connections that are essential to our wellbeing are also being turned into geopolitical tools, we need to agree on norms and rules to make them less dangerous.” — Mark Leonard, Director, European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR)
“The more vulnerable states feel, the tighter control they will try to impose and exercise. As a result, we may see a further erosion of interconnection — something we are already seeing in the economic and political field — and companies may struggle for market opportunities. Combined, this may heighten tensions and prove challenging for the integrity of a globalized world.” — Fyodor Lukyanov, Research Director, Valdai Discussion Club
“The battleground for geopolitical influence will be centered on who owns the tech companies and which companies they own. And, equally important will be who governs them and how their supply chains will be integrated.” — Susana Malcorra, Dean, IE School of Global and Public Affairs, IE University
“If democracies are to avoid further erosion of their relative geopolitical power, they need to break down barriers to sharing data about their citizens’ health, develop common standards on vaccine development and testing, and invest together in the technological infrastructure on which their future prosperity as well as security will depend.” — Robin Niblett, Director and Chief Executive, Chatham House (the Royal Institute of International Affairs)
“As the international action to address the COVID pandemic has shown, we must work together to address both the vast benefits and the enormous risks of data. The global stakes are too high to do anything else. — Vera Songwe, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA)
“Technology and ideas, to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, banish darkness: because they are nonrival, they light your way without darkening mine. The geopolitical conversation, however, has instead settled on a zero-sum confrontational approach to technological competition.” — Danny Quah, Dean and Li Ka Shing Professor in Economics, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore
There is a lot to consider in these various perspectives. On the other side of this conversation are the positive implications for society. This is made clear when viewed through the lens of growth and prosperity.
The value of frontier technologies is high. 5G alone is projected to generate $13 trillion in global economic value and 22 million jobs by 2035. And artificial intelligence is projected to add over $15 trillion to the global economy by 2030.
Ariel Kastner — 7 views on how technology will shape geopolitics
As with most things in life, it’s about balance. How do we avoid undermining further human development while mitigating the risks identified in the article? In this new period of great invention, leadership is required.