Given the new technologies surrounding us or emerging (5G, artificial intelligence, cybernetics, robots, space, laser, quantum technology, etc.), can we chart the contours of a new geopolitics?
Today, if we think about the issue of defense innovation, we can clearly see that a major paradigm shift has taken place. In the field of innovation, civil, dual and defense profile, the profile of the ecosystem has changed a lot. Today, this is often the cutting edge innovation of very specialized companies, and this innovation is happening very quickly. This was not fifty or even thirty years ago. This raises the question of the adaptation of managers to this evolution. One of the most problematic is the national or group structure of nations. Take the recent example of the health crisis. Who is leading the dance today? Pfizer, Moderna. What have the states done? They went to pay and beg. The Covid crisis is a laboratory in which we see how our society reacts in the face of a problem that requires innovation, and where, in the end, everyone tends to become selfish. Defense is no different.
With regard to the new technological geopolitics, the polarization of the United States and China is clearly observed today. Then you have Russia, possibly Europe, Singapore, India, Australia. Thirty years ago, we would have wondered what the innovative potential of such and such a state is. Today, this issue has faded into the background.
Indeed, if we take the most current technologies, we have artificial intelligence (AI), the second quantum revolution, which is happening in a rich and complex way, and the cosmos.
In terms of AI, the best groups are GAFAM, followed by many startups that aim to integrate into these groups. They are created in many countries that may have different legislation, different interests (in terms of defense, economy, etc.). The main interest of these large groups is not to serve the nation, but to make money. However, for them, the ideal conditions for this are the conditions of global peace. Conflict, even justified, does not serve them. Their economic structure means that they cannot enrich themselves by serving the defense of one country or another.
However, there is a caveat to this technology. We are often led to believe that this will solve all our problems in five to ten years. It’s harder than that. Yes, AI will do interesting things, make life easier in some cases, save time, but we will not be able in the medium term to have a machine with which we will interact naturally, such as HAL in 2001 or like androids from sci-fi movies.
For quantum technologies, everything is more complicated. Several states have invested heavily in this area. For technologies that are in the process of success (quantum sensors and detection), this money is enough or almost enough. But once you get into the quantum computer problem, I think that’s not the case anymore. The money invested may be enough locally, but not globally, with the possible exception of China. Thus, we resort to private organizations such as, for example, IBM or Google. You also have startups that need to be more independent, but let’s not forget that they are destined to be swallowed up by large groups that move themselves.
Finally, space gives the impression that the notion of the state still makes sense. But look at Elon Musk and NASA. The latter, for technological and financial reasons, became dependent on a private group. The relationship between Musk and NASA is an example of a trend that will continue to grow. So far, only China has a special status. On the one hand, you have large groups like GAFAM who want to trade with China, and on the other hand, a country with a very strong government, a totalitarian type, at least not democratic, as we are, let’s hear. China is investing huge amounts of money and human resources in everything that is. quantum computing and space. Therefore, it competes with large private groups, which, for their part, want to trade with it in peace. Thus, we are witnessing a strategic evolution. Will our states retain or regain autonomy over all these technologies in twenty or thirty years, or is it already too late? I think it’s safe to say that today NASA thinks it’s too late. His actions speak in that direction simply because he no longer manages to carry out his missions in the traditional way, as he did ten or twenty years ago.
Ultimately, on this technological chessboard, on the one hand, countries that can be classified as democratic, and on the other, China and large private international groups, but of American origin, with colossal budgets and with their own interests. These groups are the catalyst for at least 50% of progress.
And Europe? France? How do they fit into this new technological chessboard? Are they equipped enough (researchers, institutions, companies, etc.) to compete with these heavyweights?
Europe could do more, but it’s difficult. It has excellent scientists, often better than some American bands. But as a “country” or association of countries, it tries its best to do the bare minimum. The order is scattered: Germany increasingly relies on Google for quantum computers; France has a quantum plan, but it has not yet been implemented; and Great Britain alone goes outside the Union. When it comes to AI, most of the research is done in European versions of American groups.
One of the main problems, which is often overlooked, is related to the organization specific to each country. Harmonization problems are such that administrations give up.
For example, Defense Europe is betting on the France-Germany duo. However, organizational differences between the two countries are such that it is very difficult to launch joint projects.
Now, if we have to compare France to the United States, the latter has a significant advantage: size. A thousand people thinking about a problem often converge faster than ten. On the other hand, Americans recognize that several groups are working on the same problem to solve it. Failure is not a problem, and neither is money. In France, the traditional philosophy is that taxpayers’ money should not be wasted. Add to this the fact that France is still a highly centralized country, while the United States is still a federal state. This results in a policy that only assigns a given issue to one group. But that is starting to change with the advent of the Defense Innovation Agency (AID), which seems to have introduced a culture of risk-taking.
This financial issue is critical. For example, the American DARPA launches programs that fund the research of European scientists. As a result, we find ourselves with French and European researchers who work for the American Defense Research Agency. This is reality on earth.
Can we expect a “technology clash” between Beijing and Washington, or even between major technology groups?
I’ll tell you an anecdote. A few years ago, a senior American politician told me something that struck me as being outspoken. He told me that when faced with China or Russia, the United States could requisition all the technology of the major American factions in the event of a conflict.
Today, this discourse seems completely outdated to me. Private groups are making more and more money by accumulating data. However, these data are gold bars, because they allow testing and improving algorithms that are classical today and quantum tomorrow. Thus, in ten or twenty years, these large groups will be able to bend states, first hidden, and then open. As a result, a technology match between China and the United States could be a match that will never happen.
The question arises: “What is the ultimate goal of large groups? “Because today, universities, public or private, do not provide enough engineers in quantum technologies or even artificial intelligence. Since then, partnerships have been created between these groups and some universities, such as, for example, the agreement signed between Google and Polytechnique. It’s very realistic, but in the long run, we can imagine a transfer learning completely controlled by private groups. There is a question about their ultimate goal: purely financial? Do they want to go further by training young people, leaders? How to avoid this? Just look, what is happening today in the US or Europe to limit the power of large groups (data access, monopoly, etc.) But do we really want to break these GAFAMs or at least curb them?
Let’s not forget that everything that is done in the field of AI comes mainly from these groups, which, in addition, attract talent with more than attractive rewards or recruit many brilliant students from all over the world.
When it comes to quantums, there are things that are already working in the field of quantum sensors and sensors. On this issue, nation-states, including Europe and France, are in a good position. Israel is also a major player in this area, as in others. On the other hand, for everything that is quantum computing, it’s more difficult. Many will talk about a five-year horizon for the creation of the first universal quantum computer. I’ll be a lot more careful myself. But who can say what will happen during this time? What will become of China? What will become of the United States? Europe?
There is no doubt that there is a country in which it is difficult to implement the strategy of large groups: China. The central state there is very strong, omnipresent, and it invests huge funds. As a result, in twenty years we may find ourselves in a paradoxical situation where Beijing will have more control over science than our countries subordinate to these groups.
Interview with Areion 24 news.