THE turbulent convulsions produced by the COVID-19 pandemic remind us how the force of nature, external interference notwithstanding, can wreak havoc on a planetary scale. But it was the advent of nuclear weapons several decades ago that served as a harbinger of what our ingenuity could produce: human-induced, single-event comprehensive self-destruction. This fear, however great and real, has been somewhat mitigated by the fact that the knowhow to build and deploy such arms rested in the hands of a small number of state actors. As such, each of the world’s more than 12,000 nuclear missiles remain under the purview of national security programs of the countries that built them. This safety net has stood the test of time even in the face of reckless brinksmanship and near-miss confrontations of arch adversaries.


BUT the extraordinary potential of artificial intelligence (AI) should bring our concerns to another level. The work of private firms that have so far led in AI research and development continues to be much less tethered to the demands, restrictions, and conditions of sovereign states in this domain than in other types of technology. Not a single government, acting alone or in concert with others (arguably, China being a partial exception), has been able thus far to impose a framework to effectively regulate this rapidly evolving technology, which carries within its very design the possibility of becoming fully autonomous of human direction. The longer key stakeholders dither, the more likely AI’s emergent effects will become increasingly difficult even to predict, let alone control.


LARGE language models, like Chat GPT, are but the “tip of the [AI] iceberg,” as one of our essays puts it. To illustrate its potential, the present edition of Horizons features an article generated entirely by this relatively rudimentary application of AI. There are evident advantages of its incorporation into the fabric of our experience: many of AI’s applications can contribute to our immediate betterment, as our various authors point out. And yet, none of them are willing to place an all-in wager on a “happy future” driven by machines benignly and “invisibly” serving the needs of their erstwhile creators.


THE decline in humanity’s ability to safeguard its electric dreams in the time ahead is hardly the only acute challenge to the ailing world order. The ongoing transformation of the global financial system is arguably an even more imminent one. The recent announcement that the enlarged BRICS may launch new homegrown payment instruments and platforms speaks to this point. So does the ongoing proliferation of blockchain technologies, including the continuing spread of cryptocurrencies, and the unforeseen consequences of economic sanctions against major powers. These and related topics are also examined in this edition of Horizons.


WE’D better buckle up for multiplying paradigm shifts in international structures and balances of power, for they are guaranteed to produce political, economic, and social shockwaves of unprecedented scale and scope. Artificial intelligence—unbridled as it now stands—is a bellwether for worldwide disruption.

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