What Dickens wrote of the last quarter of the 18th century fits the present period all too well. The quest for a world structure that secures peace, advances human rights and provides the conditions for economic progress for what is loosely called world order has never seemed more frustrating but at the same time strangely hopeful. Certainly the gap has never loomed larger between the objectives and the capacities of the international organizations that were supposed to get mankind on the road to world order. We are witnessing an outbreak of shortsighted nationalism that seems oblivious to the economic, political and moral implications of interdependence. Yet never has there been such widespread recognition by the world’s intellectual leadership of the necessity for cooperation and planning on a truly global basis, beyond country, beyond region, especially beyond social system. Never has there been such an extraordinary growth in the constructive potential of transnational private organizations not just multinational corporations but international associations of every kind in which like-minded persons around the world weave effective patterns of global action. And never have we seen such an impressive array of ongoing negotiations aimed at the cooperative management of global problems. To familiar phrases like the “population explosion” and the “communications explosion” we should now add the “negotiation explosion.”
In the years ahead, social-behavioral (SB) modeling (i.e., modeling that reflects behavior of individuals and social entities) should help us (1) understand certain classes of SB phenomena with national significance; (2) anticipate how those phenomena may plausibly unfold; (3) estimate potential desirable and undesirable effects of additional events in the world or of possible U.S. or adversary interventions; and (4) inform decision making. The phenomena of interest span a broad gamut that includes radicalization for terrorism, the weakening of democracy and national cohesion by foreign information operations campaigns, improving prospects for stability after international interventions, managing behaviors of populations after natural disasters, and dealing with opioid or obesity epidemics. Each such topic would be a good “national challenge,” as discussed later. Each has complex multidimensional social phenomena that are difficult to analyze without the unique power of modeling. In other domains, such modeling helps planners to strategize, plan, design, and adapt. It helps to avoid blunders and bad side effects of policy interventions.
The paradox of our time is that humanity is becoming simultaneously more unified and more fragmented. That is the principal thrust of contemporary change. Time and space have become so compressed that global politics manifest a tendency toward larger, more interwoven forms of cooperation as well as toward the dissolution of established institutional and ideological loyalties. Humanity is becoming more integral and intimate even as the differences in the condition of the separate societies are widening. Under these circumstances proximity, instead of promoting unity, gives rise to tensions prompted by a new sense of global congestion. A new pattern of international politics is emerging.
The world is ceasing to be an arena in which relatively self contained, “sovereign,” and homogeneous nations interact, collaborate, clash, or make war. International politics, in the original sense of the term, were born when groups of people began to identify themselves— and others—in mutually exclusive terms (territory, language, symbols, beliefs), and when that identification became in turn the dominant factor in relations between these groups. The concept of national interest—based on geographical factors, traditional animosities or friendships, economics, and security considerations— implied a degree of autonomy and specificity that was possible only so long as nations were sufficiently separated in time and space to have both the room to maneuver and the distance needed to maintain separate identity.
AI is enabling increasingly realistic photo, audio, and video forgeries, or “deep fakes,” that adversaries could deploy as part of their information operations. Indeed, deep fake technology could be used against the United States and U.S. allies to generate false news reports, influence public discourse, erode public trust, and attempt to blackmail diplomats. Although most previous deep fakes have been detectable by experts, the sophistication of the technology is progressing to the point that it may soon be capable of fooling forensic analysis tools. In order to combat deep fake technologies, DARPA has launched the Media Forensics (MediFor) project, which seeks to “automatically detect manipulations, provide detailed information about how these manipulations were performed, and reason about the overall integrity of visual media.” MediFor has developed some initial tools for identifying AI-produced forgeries, but as one analyst has noted, “a key problem … is that machine-learning systems can be trained to outmaneuver forensics tools.” For this reason, DARPA plans to host follow-on contests to
ensure that forensic tools keep pace with deep fake technologies.