We tackled our 3rd topic “Risky Science Across Borders” by covering several topics including Nuclear Proliferation, Solar Radiation Modification, and Artificial Intelligence.

The chapter covered mostly home-made disasters, while the Master Class covered mostly AI. It seemed as if the chapter and Master Class were disconnected. Hani explained that pre-covid, most video segments were interviews with politicians and experts, which often led to a large difference between the chapter and the video content. However, when COVID hit in mid-2020, FPA stopped doing the interviews and resorted to the Master Class approach which resulted in a better correlation between the video and the chapter.

The session started with a discussion on the 1991 Philippines Mount Pinatubo eruption where the volcanic ash spread particulate matter in the higher atmosphere reflecting heat-producing solar radiation back into space, thus lowering the temperature on the surface of the planet. The discussion started when the class deliberated the intentional production of SRM (Solar Radiation Modification) to lower the temperature of the surface of the earth, thus rendering the efforts currently being taken to limit the heating of the planet no longer critical. If multi-lateral agreements (global governance) is managed properly, then the creation of SRM for the good of the whole world becomes no longer an ethical or controversial question. The correlation made was with nuclear power, and how it spread to the current nine nations (United States, Russia, France, China, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, India, Israel, and North Korea). Was dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima justified? How about the one on Nagasaki three days later? Was Japan going to surrender regardless? Did these two bombs actually bring the end of the war with minimal casualties? The debate continues.

As for AI, this is a global phenomenon, and like nuclear weapons, it can be used for the betterment of mankind, or its destruction. AI can be used to discover cold fusion technologies to bring unlimited, cheap, and ecologically friendly energy, or can be used unethically to track citizens or collect unauthorized data on citizens. Economically, robots in manufacturing can reduce the workforce by 30%, thus affecting migration and causing unintended effects such as illegal immigration. As a result one can conclude that AI can be considered an existential threat to human’s survival. Does the rise of ChatGPT create anxiety or calm about AI? One of our attendees asked ChatGPT to “write a poem about artificial intelligence, the risks and benefits, China, Russia, the United States, and India, going forward the next 100 years”. The response came back in less than 5 seconds with the following poem”:

“In realms of code and circuits, AI’s dance, A future shaped by both risk and chance.

In China’s embrace, algorithms soar, Progress echoes from the Great Wall’s core.

Russia’s algorithms in a ballet, Navigate paths where shadows may sway.

In the dance of data, a subtle game, Silicon whispers, a digital flame.

United States, the pioneer’s stride, Innovation and ethics side by side.

From Silicon Valley to the East Coast’s gleam, Dreams of progress in the data stream.

India, with ancient roots intertwined, Tech prowess in the fabric of the mind.

A dance of progress, tradition’s braid, Onward into the digital cascade.

Yet, with progress blooms a shadow’s cast, The risk of power, control amassed.

Ethics and governance, vital quest, In AI’s journey, humanity’s test.

In this ballet of nations, let’s aspire, To weave a tapestry where all inspire.

For benefits vast, a shared endeavor, AI’s dance harmonious, forever.”

The policy option we entertained is that there has to be control over all such activities (nuclear weapons, unnecessary wars, SRM, AI) to make sure they are solely used for the benefit of humanity with minimal access to rogue nations or groups whose intentions are to cause harm regardless of the consequences. Can the world give the United Nations the power and authority to create strict guidelines to monitor and control these activities? Can the U.S. be trusted to lead this effort?

The topic for next week is “U.S. – CHINA TRADE RIVALRY”. A repeat topic in all Great Decisions years.