IInternational diplomacy has traditionally relied on bargaining power, covert channels of communication, and personal chemistry between leaders. But a new era is looming in which dispassionate insights into artificial intelligence algorithms and mathematical techniques like game theory will play a growing role in agreements reached between nations, according to the co-founder of the first science center in diplomacy. of the world.
Michael Ambühl, professor of negotiation and conflict management and former chief negotiator between Switzerland and the EU, said that recent advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning mean that these technologies now have an important role to play in international diplomacy, including in the COP26 summit that will begin at the end of this month. and in post-Brexit deals on trade and immigration.
“These technologies are already partially used and it will be the intention to use them more,” Ambühl said. “Everything related to data science, artificial intelligence, machine learning … we want to see how it can be beneficial for multilateral or bilateral diplomacy.”
The use of artificial intelligence 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 reliable foundations. In the future, these technologies could be used to identify patterns in the economic data that underpin free trade agreements and help standardize some aspects of the negotiations.
The Lab for Science in Diplomacy, a collaboration between ETH Zürich, where Ambühl is based and the University of Geneva, will also focus on “negotiation engineering”, where existing mathematical techniques, such as game theory, are used to help frame a discussion or act out different scenarios before engaging in conversations.
These tools are not new. Game theory was developed in the 1920s by the Hungarian-American mathematician John Von Neumann, initially to formalize the concept of “bluffing” in poker and later used to weigh nuclear attack scenarios during the Cold War. However, until recently, these techniques fell out of widespread use, “not for lack of technology, but for lack of knowledge,” according to Ambühl. “Diplomats are not so used to it.”
But as the world becomes more tech- and data-savvy, those who ignore quantitative methods risk falling short. Ambühl said that, as Switzerland’s chief negotiator in the EU, he ran a game theory simulation ahead of the talks that led to Switzerland joining the Shengen area and a series of agreements with the EU on tax, trade and security. The analysis indicated that Switzerland was interested in the negotiations being conducted as a package rather than sequentially, so the Swiss government insisted on this as the basis for the talks.
Did the EU do its own analysis? “I don’t think so,” Ambühl said. “We didn’t tell them we were doing game theory.”
Taking a mathematical approach can also help “de-emotionalize” underlying conflicts, according to Ambühl. He cites the talks between Iran and the P5 + 1 countries in Geneva in 2005, where as a facilitator he came up with a mathematical formula for the speed at which Iran would reduce its number of nuclear centrifuges. “When we presented the idea it was, ‘Now let’s talk about the size of this gradient, alpha, which is between 0 and 1,'” he said. “He discusses it on a more technical level.”
Can deep-seated political problems really be summed up in a gradient on a curve? Ambühl said that this misses the point, which is to crystallize what is being negotiated so as not to offer a fully formed solution. “It is not about making a technical agreement,” he said. “It is a political question, but you break it down. It is divided into problems and subproblems and sub-subproblems “.
A more scientific approach does not mean ditching traditional methods. “I’m not claiming that you can only negotiate well if you do it this way,” he said. “It still depends a lot on other factors like how much negotiating power you have, if you have a charming negotiator, if you have a prime minister behind you who supports difficult negotiations and how well you have prepared.”
Is there a risk that any of these new approaches will backfire, with rival AI escalating conflicts or arriving at diplomatic solutions that are mathematically optimal, but have disastrous consequences in the real world?
“You are not going to war just because a blind algorithm decides; it goes without saying that this would be bullshit,” Ambühl said. “It is always just a decision tool.”
“He cannot be blindly trusted, but neither can the instinct of these politicians be blindly trusted,” he added. “You have to do a smart combination of new technologies and political analysis.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism