A look at the consequences of the technologies of the fourth industrial revolution

So far, policymakers and researchers of social sciences and international relations around the world have looked at technology as a partial issue. Still, the emergence of technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, the Internet of Things, the fifth and sixth generation of communication technology and etc., has become one of the most important challenges of global politics so that researchers of international relations can no longer ignore it; Therefore, many believe that we are entering the era of the fourth industrial revolution, in which, technological disruption will unprecedentedly completely transform the economy, politics, society and fundamentally the ways of life, work, and interaction with each other.
23 July 2023
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Masoud Hamyani

So far, policymakers and researchers of social sciences and international relations around the world have looked at technology as a partial issue. Still, the emergence of technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, the Internet of Things, the fifth and sixth generation of communication technology and etc., has become one of the most important challenges of global politics so that researchers of international relations can no longer ignore it; Therefore, many believe that we are entering the era of the fourth industrial revolution, in which, technological disruption will unprecedentedly completely transform the economy, politics, society and fundamentally the ways of life, work, and interaction with each other.

Regarding the importance of technology in international relations, traditional liberals have an optimistic view of technology in the path of human evolution, but they highlight discussions such as the definition of the status of legal personality and responsibility and emphasize the accountability of large technology companies in the host communities. Liberals also believe in rewriting the social contract and insist that the world needs a new social contract - a digital social contract. Neoliberals such as Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye look optimistically at technological innovation, especially information technology, and consider it as a tool for economic globalization, creating new international institutions, increasing interdependence, and ultimately driving change in the international system.

Realists consider technology exogenous or outside of social processes, but while traditional realists consider technology a strategic asset, neorealists like Waltz believe that technological innovations can have a transformative effect on international relations by changing the capabilities of governments and, as a result, the balance of power in the international system. Robert Gilpin also believes that technology is the main factor (besides the different growth of power among governments) that causes systemic imbalance because military or technological innovation reduces the cost and increases the benefits of territorial conquest and thus encourages military development. In short, realists consider technology as an independent and exogenous variable that affects a government's economic and military potential; therefore, it is responsible for intra-systemic change.

From the constructivist point of view, technology has the ability to change the current power dynamics between countries, because as it affects social, political and economic norms, it also transforms the understanding of the concept of power. For example, Alexander Wendt considers the technological factor as a part of the structural forces (an important material limitation) that limit governments' actions and shape their identity.

In contrast, the critical paradigm focuses on the continuing challenge of inequality as a result of emerging technologies and the fourth industrial revolution. Critical theorists believe that countries that do not have enough funds in the field of new technologies may be in danger of weakening their military and economic power in the future.

The post-modern point of view criticizes the above approaches because they consider technology as an exogenous factor or outside of social processes and, instead, consider technology as an internal factor in relation to social processes and areas such as power and inequality. The reason for adopting an internal approach towards technology is the multi-dimensional role of technology in creating changes, because post-moderns consider technology as one of the key ways to study how to gain power and maintain it, as well as how to distribute and perpetuate inequalities in the in socio-economic or gender contexts.

The result of this topic shows us that still, theoretically, the importance of the technologies of the fourth industrial revolution has not been given proper attention by theoretical paradigms as it should be, and it is considered a marginal topic in the theories of international relations. However, each of the theories can provide a framework for understanding how to manage the security, economic and social consequences of new technologies by highlighting some specific aspects.

 

Geopolitical and geoeconomic consequences

The most important consequence of the emergence of technologies of the fourth industrial revolution is its effect on the change of power politics. The fourth industrial revolution is expected to fundamentally change the centuries-old pattern of international politics. For example, since the technical and digital infrastructures are provided by two big powers, namely China and the United States, some analysts report the possibility of emerging two technology blocs led by these two countries in the near future. Therefore, since data, entrepreneurial capacity, government investments, and computing capacity play a major role in the era of the fourth industrial revolution, it can be expected that the emerging technologies will ultimately cause an increase in the gap in military and economic influence between these two countries and other countries. As a result, some believe in the end of multilateralism and the emergence of a club of states in the form of two blocs led by the United States and China in the field of geo-technology in the coming decade. In the meantime, the security puzzle of developing countries is how to adjust their geo-technological strategy according to these developments. For a developing country, receiving any equipment and digital infrastructure from either of these two great powers means putting indigenous data and national security at risk, but the other option, i.e., inaction, does not give any advantage, and finally, it increases the digital gap with competing powers.

In addition, access to the technologies of the fourth industrial revolution is considered a strategic asset affecting power and deterrence equations. This issue has made new technologies more secure. For example, artificial intelligence has attracted the attention of policymakers and defense analysts, especially because of its huge potential in the defense sector because artificial intelligence is changing power equations and challenging traditional arms control thinking, and raising questions and doubts about compliance with current international laws. Therefore, it is expected that along with the progress in artificial intelligence, its threats, challenges, and opportunities will gradually multiply from the point of view of national security.

 

Consequences for conventional arms control

From the perspective of arms control, researchers ask whether emerging technologies, especially artificial intelligence in weapon systems, will reduce the threshold for the use of force in international relations. Does it exacerbate strategic instability? Will it create new arms races and empower non-state actors or not?

For example, during the Cold War, debates once revolved around how a particular strategic weapon system supported or undermined first-strike stability and the attack-defense equation. Today, however, the addition of artificial intelligence capabilities to hypersonic launch vehicles by one of the leading countries in artificial intelligence technology can undermine strategic stability or restore sustainable deterrence by penetrating the opponent's missile defense systems.

In this situation, the problem is that so far, disarmament and arms control experts are used to dealing with conventional weapons such as tanks, planes, and missiles, not with data and algorithms. Negotiations in this regard have been followed at a slow rate and during a time-consuming process with the partners, and they have mostly sought to apply laws and verification regimes. In contrast, automatic and intelligent systems are not suitable for this form of arms control.

Considering the above problems, some people believe that consensus-based multilateral negotiation approaches are not applicable in a world with political, economic, and ideological faults between countries, and considering the destructive and rapid consequences of emerging technologies, beyond issuing ethical declarations, we need swift action to manage challenges. Therefore, according to the speed of development of emerging technologies, organizations like the United Nations are very slow and incompetent, and since they are politically biased, they cannot have a significant effect.

In addition, trade regimes and global supply chains are expected to be revised in line with national security concerns as a result of emerging technologies because cross-border flows of data and human capital are considered vulnerabilities. Therefore, in the future, international trade may be subject to compliance with general data protection regulations.

Considering these cases in the era of the fourth industrial revolution, the appropriate starting point for dealing with the security consequences of technological disruption is to first accept that there is no quick solution because the economic, political, and security drivers for the spread of this set of technologies in security issues are so powerful that it cannot be reversed.

Also, strategic communities must accept that the fourth industrial revolution cannot be driven by coders alone; its security consequences cannot only be related to diplomats, soldiers, and lawyers. Given the massive effect that emerging technology businesses can have on society, this should be everyone's concern. Therefore, a mechanism should be provided in which a wide range of actors at the national and international levels, companies, businesses, and ordinary citizens should apply their opinions and interests regarding the future of governance of emerging technologies.

Masoud Hamiani, an expert at the Institute for Political and International Studies

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