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The Economic, Security and Military Implications of Artificial Intelligence for the Arab Gulf Countries

A paper by Dr Jean-Marc Rickli published by the Emirates Diplomatic Academy

Release Date:

November 2018

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Artificial intelligence (AI) has long been the subject of science fiction but only recently has its profoundly disruptive potential seemed near to realisation. Advances in artificial intelligence have grown exponentially since the early 2010s. While Moore’s law relies on the processing power of computers doubling every 18 months, the amount of compute used in the largest AI training runs has been doubling every 3.5 months from 2012 to 2018. This represents a more than 300,000-times increase compared to a 12-times increase based on Moore’s law for the same period.1 Such an exponential growth is transformative for every sector of activity and this causes hopes but also serious concern among its developers and the international community.

  • Artificial intelligence (AI) since the early 2010s has witnessed a series of technical breakthroughs due to the increase in computing power, the amount of data generated and the application of machine learning techniques.
  • Artificial intelligence will have major economic impacts by increasing productivity worldwide. However, many jobs, both blue- and white-collar workers, are at risk of being automated. This implies that important efforts in terms of education and training will have to be undertaken to keep these people on the job market.
  • Artificial intelligence will also have major impacts on international and national security. It will rebalance the international balance of power, empower individuals and shift the global strategic balance towards those states that have a strong AI industrial base and heavy investment, both public and private, in AI research and development.
  • The Arab Gulf countries will also be faced by the economic and security implications of AI. It has the potential to profoundly change the economic structure of Gulf societies. Expats will be the hardest hit by automation, but AI is also expected to profoundly affect governmental jobs. This implies that Gulf countries governments have to massively invest in education to best prepare future generations for this transformation. Continuing education programmes also have to be put in place to provide national workers with re- and upskilling opportunities.
  • In terms of military and security consequences, selforganised collective decision-making in swarms of autonomous agents will likely become a defining feature of future battlefields. The impact of swarming strategies has the potential to upset the offensedefence balance and impact strategic stability both regionally and globally accordingly. It will also act as a force multiplier for non-state actors that could directly impact the Gulf countries’ military forces operating in Middle Eastern theatres of operations.
  • The cyber domain will be very conducive for the development and engagement of fully autonomous weapons as surrogates. Given the Gulf region’s past record with regard to cyber-attacks, one cannot exclude that AI will magnify instability in the region.  
  • The use of artificial intelligence for massive manipulations through the forgery of images, films or voices is already a reality. Its use by malicious actors has the potential to magnify the tensions in the Gulf region and increase its instability.
  • The broadening of the scope of threats, vulnerabilities and potential mis- and malicious uses of AI, but also of other emerging technologies, calls for a rethinking of global governance mechanisms so that they can better deal with dual-use technologies.

Find a copy of the paper at the Emirates Diplomatic Academy.