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

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

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

Anders Corr, Ph.D.
Publisher of the Journal of Political Risk

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?

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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Chinese Communist Party Cooperation with Gangs and Politicians in Canada: Book Review

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 9, No. 5, May 2021

The book cover of Wilful Blindness, by Sam Cooper.

Anders Corr, Ph.D.

Publisher of the Journal of Political Risk

Wilful Blindness How a Network of Narcos, Tycoons and CCP agents Infiltrated the West, by Sam Cooper, Optimum Publishing International, 2021, $28.95 CAD.

An investigative reporter in Canada, Sam Cooper, is at the tip of the spear, where China injects money, drugs, spies, and underage prostitutes into all of North America. Cooper provides us with a front-row seat of China’s espionage, drug supercartels, support to terrorism, money laundering, and, for a pledge of support to Beijing, campaign donations to the politicians who lurk around China’s United Front groups in Vancouver, Toronto, and Ottawa. Add to that investigations of trafficking in weapons. Heads of state, including Donald Trump and Justin Trudeau, are linked by the author to the nefarious characters from China who are doing this dirty business.

It sounds too crazy to be true.  

But Cooper’s new book, Wilful Blindness, is nonfiction, and based on five years of his investigative reporting on the topic, and confidential sources in Canadian intelligence and police agencies. It vindicates, and brings up to date, a joint Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) and Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) report that in 1997 made many of the same claims. That report, called “Sidewinder”, was suppressed by Ottawa, which at time was trying to ink new trade deals with Beijing. 

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War In The Taiwan Strait Is Not Unthinkable: Some Will Lose More Than Others

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 11, November 2019

Screen capture of Chinese state media video of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops training for an assault on Taiwan’s presidential office. Pictured is a mock building at the Zhurihe military base in China, that mimics the actual building in Taipei. The video aired July 5, 2015. CCTV via Apple Daily.

Grant Newsham
US Marine Officer (Ret)

Whether anyone actually ‘wins’ a war is a philosophical debate.  The Germans and Japanese in 1945 might have thought wars do indeed have winners.  But perhaps it’s better said that in most conflicts some parties ‘lose more than others.’

Such would be the case if Beijing attempted to militarily subjugate Taiwan.  And Xi Jinping just might do so.  He declared in a January 2019 speech that “we (China) do not promise to renounce the use of force and reserve the option to use all necessary measures (to take Taiwan.)”[1]

The Battle for Taiwan would have truly global consequences, akin to the invasion of Poland by the Soviets and Germans in 1939.

However, much of the debate over a Taiwan Strait conflict focuses on preparation for and conduct of the PRC’s attack: whether Beijing will or won’t attack, what an attack might look like and Taiwan’s ability to defend itself, whether the US will or should get involved and whether it ought to sell Taiwan ‘this or that’ weapon.  Such discussion is useful, but the actual consequences and longer-term ripple effects of a fight over Taiwan deserve much more attention.[2]

This paper examines key aspects of what happens once the shooting starts, and the follow-on global economic and political effects.  The envisioned scenario is a full-scale PLA assault against Taiwan, but it’s worth noting that even a ‘limited’ assault–such as against one of Taiwan’s offshore islands–may not stay limited for very long: given Beijing’s oft-stated determination to take all of Taiwan, an off-shore island assault would only constitute a tactical objective in the march on Taipei, and would also have serious and wide-ranging political and economic consequences.

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China and the War of Shipyards and Factories

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 10, October 2019

Chinese aircraft carrier group, including J-15 fighters and helicopters, trains in the South China Sea in late December, 2016. NARA & DVIDS Public Domain Archives.

William R. Hawkins
Former U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee member

Satellite images show that China is making rapid progress in building its new Type 02 aircraft carrier at the Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai. The Type 02 is a larger design than Beijing’s first two carriers which were based on Soviet-era light carriers of about 67,000 tons and which lacked catapults for launching first-rate fighters. They used “ski jumps” to put planes into the air, limiting them to the small, short-range J-15 “Flying Shark” fighter-bombers. The Russian-built/China modified Type 01 can only carry 24 of these warbirds, though the China-built 01A, which is about to deploy, may be able to carry a few more. The Type 02 is a much larger design more in line with American carriers. At an estimated 80,000+ tons, it will be able to carry 40+ fighters as well as supporting aircraft such as early warning and control planes. In comparison, the typical U.S. Navy carrier has 60+ fighters along with other support aircraft. They are also nuclear-powered which the Chinese carriers are not. This does not mean, however, that American naval-air superiority is assured. Continue reading

What The Philippines Must Do To Defend Itself From China

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 9, September 2019

A U.S. marine watches as Philippine Marines raise their flag over the naval station, 1992. Source: NARA & DVIDS Public Domain Archive.

Sannie Evan Malala
West Visayas State University

The Philippines is strategically located in Southeast Asia, at the fault-line between Communist China and the democratic nations of the Americas and Europe. In the north is East Asia, full of wealthy market democracies in increasing conflict with China. To the southwest are countries seeking to defend their exclusive economic zones from China, including Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei. As China’s power grows, the fault-line is widening and trying to straddle the middle will only result in our falling into the chasm. The Philippines must choose a side – subservience to China or joining a coalition of the willing in defense of each country’s independence and democracy from the Chinese hegemon. The Philippines has yet to take advantage of its full potential and has become economically poor and militarily weak, primarily due to corruption, internal armed struggle, and its growing relationship with China. For the Philippines to avoid being a satellite of China, this is what we must do. Continue reading