Digitalization is evolving from an economic challenge to a governance and political problem. Some studies suggest that by 2030, Artificial Intelligence (AI) might contribute up to EUR 13.33 trillion to the global economy (more than the current output of China and India combined). The essence of the political conflict that raises the issue of global governance is what type of actor (a state or a digital corporation) will lead this process, creating global asymmetry in terms of trade, information flows, social structures and political power. This means challenging the international system as we know it.
AI is generating new large-scale systems based on (1) services (such as traffic management and smart vehicles, international banking systems, and new healthcare ecosystems); (2) global value chains, the Internet of things (IoT) and robotics (Industry 4.0); and (3) electronics with a new generation of microprocessors and highly specialized chips. The “food” for AI is the Internet – a major source of data, computing power and telecommunications infrastructure.
Not all countries will benefit in the same way, since AI-driven wealth will be dependent on each country’s readiness to be “connected” to the Internet. This is the essence of the political problem between a non-territorial space based on large-scale computer networks and nation-states.
Both democratic and non-democratic governments struggle to assert authority over different dimensions. First, they need to regulate de facto global private monopolies (such as Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon) that are setting new rules of competition, creating new technology markets and blurring boundaries between industries. Second, many countries perceive Internet governance as too US-centric. A good example is the governance of IP addresses, which created the precedent of having a “universal resource” managed by a private, US-based institution like the ICANN. Third, a vast majority of digital innovations and AI technologies and applications come from a unique public-private ecosystem in the United States: Silicon Valley. Finally, although the Internet is global, investment in infrastructure (such as 5G) requires huge investments driven by local (ex-public) telecom operators whose business models are less sustainable.
While the European Union struggles to regulate Silicon Valley’s global platforms, China has started to block them with a “digital wall,” promoting protectionism to strike and compete in the global-tech game. Examples are tech giants such as Tencent, Baidu, Alibaba and the impressive Digital Silk Road to connect the European Union and China with various types of infrastructure, including satellites, 5G and submarine cables. This project could be the infrastructure that will enable China, by 2030, to become “the world’s primary artificial intelligence innovation center, transforming the country into a leading innovation-style nation and the greatest economic power,” as China’s national AI plan states.