HomeScience & TechnologyAI and mathematics will play a major role in world diplomacy

AI and mathematics will play a major role in world diplomacy

International diplomacy has traditionally relied on bargaining power, covert channels of communication, and personal chemistry between leaders. But a new era is coming in which unbiased knowledge of artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms and mathematical techniques, such as game theory, will play a growing role in agreements between nations, according to the co-founder of the world's first science center in diplomacy.

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AI diplomacy

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Michael Ambühl, professor of negotiation and conflict management and former Switzerland-EU chief negotiator, said that recent developments in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning mean that these technologies will henceforth play an important role in international diplomacy, including the Cop26 summit starting later this month and in post-Brexit agreements on trade and immigration.

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) in international negotiations is at an early stage, he said, citing the use of machine learning to assess data integrity and detect fake news to ensure that the diplomatic process has a solid foundation. In the future, these technologies could be used to standardize the economic data underpinning free trade agreements and to standardize certain aspects of the negotiations.

The Laboratory for the Science of Diplomacy, a collaboration between Ambühl's ETH Zürich and the University of Geneva, will also focus on "negotiation engineering", where existing mathematical techniques such as game theory are used either to help in the context of of a conversation or to create different scenarios before someone joins a conversation.

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These tools are not new. Game theory was developed in the 1920s by the Hungarian-American mathematician John Von Neumann, first to formalize the concept of "bluff" in poker and later used to weigh nuclear attack scenarios during the Cold War. Until recently, however, such techniques were out of the ordinary, "not because of a lack of technology but rather because of a lack of knowledge," says Ambühl. "Diplomats are not so used to it."

But as people become more technological and familiar with the data, those who ignore these methods will be left behind. Ambühl said that, as Switzerland 's chief negotiator with EU, conducted a game theory simulation before the talks that led Switzerland to join the Schengen area and a series of agreements with the EU on taxes, trade and security. The analysis showed that it was in Switzerland's interest for the negotiations to take place as a package and not successively, and so the Swiss government insisted on this as a basis for talks.

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