The Risks of AI: An Interview with Georgetown’s Helen Toner

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 10, No. 1, January 2o22

The JPR interview with Helen Toner, the Director of Strategy at the Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET) at Georgetown University, was conducted via email between 4 January 2022 and 13 January 2022.

Corr: What are the national security risks and benefits of AI?

Helen Toner, Director of Strategy at the Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET) at Georgetown University.

Toner: This is a huge question! AI is a general-purpose technology, meaning that—like electricity or the computer—its impacts will be felt across practically all industries and areas of society. Accordingly, it presents a huge range of potential risks and benefits from a national security perspective. One way of trying to summarize the possibilities might be as follows: the benefits will largely be in line with the kinds of benefits we have seen from increasingly sophisticated computing technology more generally: greater efficiency and accuracy, as well as the ability to perform tasks at scales impossible for humans (think: how Google search trawls the web). In terms of risks, one breakdown proposed by Zwetsloot and Dafoe is to think in terms of risks from accidents (i.e. unintended outcomes from using AI), misuse (i.e. the deliberate use of AI to cause harm), and structural changes (i.e. how progress in AI shapes surrounding systems and dynamics). I realize this is fairly abstract, but it’s impossible to enumerate specific risks without narrowing the scope to particular application areas, time frames, and actors.

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The Banyamulenge Genocide in the Democratic Republic of Congo: On the Interplay of Minority Groups’ Discrimination and Humanitarian Assistance Failure

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 9, No. 11, November 2021

By Delphin Ntanyoma

Village in Bibogobogo set alight. Photograph by Neri Patrick, taken on October 19, 2021.

For two weeks now, a humanitarian convoy (five trucks) transporting humanitarian assistance to support the Banyamulenge in Bibogobogo (sometimes spelled Bibokoboko) has been intercepted by administrative and security officials in the city of Baraka [1].Two international humanitarian organizations, including the World Food Program (WFP), that have been working in this region to support displaced and local populations, resolved to support internally displaced Banyamulenge in Bibogobogo. The WFP’s support used an intermediate humanitarian organization, familiar of the context, to provide the assistance. On its way from Uvira to Baraka, rumors circulated that this is not humanitarian assistance but rather that the trucks contained ammunition and guns. Several sources including ones linked to civil society organizations in the region have confirmed that youth in Baraka (who support administrative and security officials) erected barricades to block the trucks. Truck drivers were obliged to unload everything to check what was inside each box. In the end, the search found that there was nothing linked to guns and ammunition. However, the assistance is now stored in Baraka, and it is uncertain if these organizations will be courageous enough to reload and bring the assistance to Bibogobogo. Continue reading

Yemen: Carnage or Strategy? What is the War Really About?

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 9, No. 3, March 2021

By William R. Hawkins

Map of Yemen’s insurgency, according to published reports. Pink: Controlled by Hadi-led government. Green: Controlled by Revolutionary Committee. Tan: Controlled by Southern Transitional Council. White: Controlled by Ansar al-Sharia/AQAP forces. Grey: Controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Blue: Controlled by local, non-aligned forces like the Hadhramaut Tribal Alliance. Salmon: Controlled by forces loyal to Ali Abdullah Saleh. Source: Ali Zifan.

Every new President is challenged by foreign adversaries early in their term to test how U.S. policy may change with a new administration. Iran did not wait long to send its proxies into combat against American forces and allies. In Iraq, Shiite militia groups launched rockets attacks which wounded several Americans. On February 26, President Joe Biden sent air strikes against several related militia targets in Syria in retaliation. This seemed a continuation of President Donald Trump’s policy of muscular deterrence inaugurated by the drone strike that killed Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, commander of Iran’s Quds Force, while he was meeting with Iraqi militia leaders on January 3, 2020. President Biden sent a further message of deterrence to Tehran with a show of force by two B-52 strategic bombers escorted by Israeli fighters. The connection was important because an Israeli ship docked in Dubai was bombed by terrorists suspected of working for Iran on February 25.  

In Yemen, Iran’s proxy Houthi rebels have stepped up attacks by drones and ballistic missiles against Saudi Arabia, targeting both population centers and oil industry targets. Every few days, another barrage is launched. On March 7, Houthi Brigadier Yahya Sareea claimed the group had fired 14 drones and eight missiles at Ras Tanura, one of the world’s biggest oil ports, and other targets near their border. In retaliation, the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthi renewed their air campaign in Yemen with strikes at the rebel-held capital of Sana’a and other key targets. The coalition had pulled back on their air strikes due to pressure from the U.S., but restraint by Riyad and Washington has only encouraged the rebels. Continue reading

China Celebrates The Anniversary Of Its “Victory” In The Korean War

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 8, No. 11, November 2020

By William R. Hawkins

Korean War. Units of the Korean People’s Army and the Chinese People’s Volunteers celebrating their joint defeat of an attack by US forces. 1953. (Photo by: Sovfoto/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

On October 23, Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered a speech at a major gathering in Beijing to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Chinese People’s Volunteers (CPV) entering the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in 1950. He claimed the purpose of military intervention was to help North Korea resist U.S. aggression. The speech is representative of the kind of propaganda Beijing creates to send messages to audiences both at home and abroad at a time of rising tensions across the Indo-Pacific.

Xi’s speech is not the only event staged to celebrate China’s role in the Korean War. Wang Huning, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, delivered a speech at the opening ceremony of a new exhibit dedicated to the war on October 19. According to state media, Wang’s history ran as follows. On October 19, 1950, as requested by the DPRK, CPV forces crossed the Yalu River to aid the DPRK’s fight in the “War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea” (Beijing’s official name for the conflict). The war lasted until a truce was signed in 1953. A total of 2.9 million CPV soldiers entered the battlefield, and 197,653 died. New films and books are also being released pushing the theme that China was acting to defend Korea from an American invasion, motivated only by a desire to regain peace and stability. Continue reading

State of War, State of Mind: Reconsidering Mobilization in the Information Age

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 8, No. 10, October 2020

By LCDR Robert “Jake” Bebber, USN

Recently, American policy-makers and national security thinkers have begun to recognize that revisionist powers in Communist China and Russia have no interest in preserving the current liberal order, and instead have embarked on a course to challenge and supplant the U.S. as the world’s superpower. However, the United States is not postured to mobilize for long-term strategic competition or war with great powers. American policymakers’ assumptions regarding war preparation, prosecution, and sustainment are not aligned to the emerging 21st Century landscape being dominated by three major trends: advances in understanding of neuroscience, emerging dual-use technologies, and new financial business models.  This report takes a holistic approach toward identifying how war mobilization in the 21st Century will look different from the industrial models of the mid-to-late 20th Century. Looking beyond the Defense Department, it explores economic, policy, social, technological and informational aspects of planning and preparation. It identifies why the intelligence and national security communities are not postured to detect or anticipate emerging disruptions and strategic latency. It puts forward strategies and recommendations on how to grow American power and create new sources of comparative advantage that can be rapidly converted into both kinetic and non-kinetic effects in all domains, not just the military domain.

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