Security and Foreign Policy

Artificial Intelligence, Fake News and Leadership Dominated the Munich Security Conference

The presence of a couple of common themes can be traced through all three days of the event. Fake news, artificial intelligence and leadership were some of the dominant topics, all of which are highly relevant for the long-term development of global politics.

BY: Ana Zhelyazkova

The Munich Security Conference ended this Sunday, but the implications of the discussions that took place in the Bavarian capital will begin to unfold now. Highlights of the statements and positions by world leaders can be found in every news outlet. However, the presence of a couple of common themes can be traced through all three days of the event – all of which are highly relevant for the long-term development of global politics, complementing the main theme of the (in)stability of the liberal international order.

Artificial Intelligence and Human Perception

For the first time ever, the opening remarks to the first event of the annual Security Conference in Munich were given not by a distinguished speaker, but by a distinguished robot. After Sophia’s first diplomatic meeting at the United Nations in October 2017, the human-like robot spurred attention to herself along with issues like automation and its implications for the world. At the Townhall meeting on Artificial Intelligence and Modern Conflict, the human-algorithm and human-machine interaction were discussed in the context of legal, regulatory and ethical responsibilities. Within the conversation, Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid, made the case for the benefits of Artificial Intelligence (AI); she presented a novel approach towards AI and a vision for how the most digitized country in the world is developing its public services into, what the President herself called, a “proactive state model” – an extension of the current “digital state model”.

In contrast to nationally run governing models, the international community is far from responsive to the changes of AI and AI-based technologies. “NATO is not prepared for this kind of warfare. (….) NATO needs to speed up its decision-making processes”, stated former NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. And whereas the need for modernizing the processes and equipment of international organizations doesn’t appear to raise any doubts, the aspect of developing autonomous vs. automatic technology posed the question of where the line should be drawn – should humans be in, on or out of the loop? Although the ethical debate on the topic is rather complex, President Kaljulaid’s attentive statement provides a concluding outlook: “I don’t see why there is such a big issue with robotics and AI, it is still centered [around] applying the same values and rights”.

Social Media and Fake News

“Are Social Media instruments of emancipation or instruments of control?”. The question stated by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan during his speech on the Vision for Challenged Democracies set the tone for what later became a dominant topic after the indictments of 13 Russian nationals and HR McMaster’s affirmative statement on Russian election meddling being now “undisputed”. While political leaders were discussing the implications of Social Media and Fake News on democracies, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Microsoft Corporation President Brad Smith and Facebook Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos were introducing the approaches adopted by tech giants in battling the dangers of their own creations. Although Social Media had long been used with both good and bad intentions from individuals and organizations, political and private tech actors seem to just now be getting on the same page, i.e. following the same idea of how the digital and the analog world should and could complement each other.

Leadership 2.0

Political leadership has been mainly a topic of concern in the past year and a half with nationalism on the rise in Europe as well as purposeful isolationism and unpredictability in the United States. References and accusation of bad leadership could be found in every statement made over the past weekend in Munich. One particular theme, introduced by H.E. Kofi Annan at a pre-conference event, was being repeated over and over again. The following quote could be traced as a common thread in the remarks given by political, non-governmental, media actors and figures of the private sector: “Technology does not free us from the need of leadership; it makes leadership all the more important”.

Ana Zhelyazkova is a student in the Master of Public Health program of Ludwig-Maximilians University. She also serves as Social Engagement Coordinator for the Association for UN Interns, New York, student employee at the Max-Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy and volunteer for the German branch of Médecins du Monde.

Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions.

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