By Ussal Sahbaz, Horizons, Summer 2019 No. 14

Artificial Intelligence (AI) refers to machines that perform cognitive tasks like thinking, perceiving, learning, problem-solving, and decision-making. There is lively debate around the business and societal opportunities and risks that AI brings to humanity. While massive efficiencies and fantastic new innovations become feasible, the transformative impact of AI on job markets—leaving a massive number of white-collar employees redundant—is a widely discussed risk, especially for advanced economies.

However, from an international affairs point of view, this article argues that the most critical risk stems from the fundamentally centralizing and monopolizing characteristics of AI, considering its requirements of scale both for companies and countries. This in turn is likely to create winner-takes-all economics— the principal beneficiaries of which would be data giants like the United States and China—and bring the risk of a new “data colonialism.” Middle-sized emerging markets like Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, Turkey, or South Africa are in danger of losing recently-gained economic power and international standing.