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Tomorrow's world

Our world is on the brink, says Kissinger

Robot warfare, as imagined by AI image generator Stable Diffusion

Henry Kissinger turns 100 next weekend, says The Economist, and though the former US Secretary of State is “stooped and walks with difficulty”, his mind remains “needle-sharp”. His greatest worry, unsurprisingly, is the growing US-China rivalry. “Both sides have convinced themselves that the other represents a strategic danger,” he says, and that usually ends in one thing: “great-power confrontation”. Taiwan is the obvious flashpoint. But Kissinger is equally concerned by another factor: artificial intelligence. “We are at the very beginning of a capability where machines could impose global pestilence or other pandemics,” he says. “Not just nuclear but any field of human destruction.”

Kissinger thinks AI will become a key factor in global security within the next five years. He compares its disruptive potential to the invention of the printing press, which spread ideas that helped cause the devastating conflicts of the 16th and 17th centuries. Whereas previous weapons have always been limited by the likes of geography and accuracy, he says, algorithms have no such limitations. “Every adversary is 100% vulnerable.” Washington and Beijing know AI “cannot be abolished”, so they’ll have to “harness its power militarily” as a deterrent. But if they want to avoid catastrophe, they need to limit the threat posed by their AI arsenals in the same way that arms-control talks limited the threat of nuclear weapons. Kissinger, ever the optimist, is confident this can happen – he even thinks negotiations could help “build mutual trust” between the two governments. It is, he says, both an “unprecedented challenge” and a “great opportunity”.

🇷🇺🇨🇳 One threat Kissinger is less concerned about is the burgeoning relationship between China and Russia. “I have never met a Russian leader who said anything good about China,” he says. “And I’ve never met a Chinese leader who said anything good about Russia.”