Time for digital borders


It was easy for Western elites to dream that borders would become less important over time after the end of the Cold War and the emergence of the EU. However, this dream led to bad political decisions. Perhaps most disastrous has been unrestricted trade with autocratic regimes – notably China – in the hope that unrestricted trade would create prosperity, leading to China’s shift towards Western, liberal values. Time has proven the folly of this policy.

The Rise of Big Data

As Clive Humby referred Making data on the new oil in 2006 was in the context of the early days of big data analysis. But huge data sets are much more important today. Now they’re being used to train large language models — the frontrunners of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). A huge amount of human language is required to train this model. In fact, the corpus of material used to train the world’s most advanced language engines is the entire Internet.

Technologists also dreamed of a limitless digital world. However, organizations with the best hardware, the smartest people, and access to the largest data sets will win the race to develop the world’s best AI. Government-sponsored researchers in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) certainly have the first two. There is no reason to give them unrestricted access to the third party.

What are the stakes?

The liberal democratic regimes of the world have a serious problem with digital border controls. Instead of a single global internet, it has started to fragment. This is being driven by the PRC and the Russian Federation, which have introduced comprehensive network surveillance regulations.

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The Internet is a physical thing, although the infrastructure is largely invisible. data is accepted Physical fiber optic cable or via wireless point-to-point connections. So when a state decides to control Internet access, it’s a technical challenge, but not a huge one. With the Great Firewall, the PRC has figured out how to do this very effectively. Nothing works without government approval and supervision. PRC subjects who believe that using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) will provide them with significant security are dangerously mistaken.

In China, data is collected to construct forecasting tools and quell potential unrest. This creates a situation where the internet can be weaponized in four key ways to the benefit of autocratic regimes:

  1. These regimes can control access to the Internet by imposing strict and invisible censorship over what people can and cannot see of the outside world. Facts, statements and articles in the free Western press that do not fit the regime’s authorized narrative are simply invisible, while those that reinforce the regime’s propaganda are prominently displayed. This allows the regime to give internal propaganda external credibility and validation.
  2. Western networks face a routine and devastating legion attacks by the agents of autocratic regimes. This capability is used for IP theft, intelligence, intimidation, financial crime, and others Gray zone war.
  3. The citizens and companies of Western regimes are targeted and addressed directly advertising and more subtle means by state-run units of our authoritarian opponents. Autocratic regimes, for example, have attempted to delegitimize election results by interfering in electoral processes through the dissemination of propaganda.
  4. Perhaps most importantly, unrestricted access to the entire Internet allows for unrestricted collection of data. While autocratic regimes have targeted an application database To secure personal and sensitive information, an even more significant development is the wider collection of raw human-generated text needed to train AI language models.
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When training artificial general intelligence systems, the stakes couldn’t be higher. AI is the first tool to convincingly replicate the unique abilities of the human mind. It has the ability to create a unique, targeted user experience for each and every citizen. This may be the ultimate propaganda tool, a weapon of deception and persuasion unprecedented in history.

what can be done

It is crucial that western liberal democratic states secure our digital borders and transform this confrontation into one that offers them a differentiated advantage. Three interrelated policies should be adopted:

Digital relationships must be symmetrical between states: For states that grant their citizens unrestricted access to digital content from the United States and its allies, we should continue to grant unrestricted access. For states that throttle content extensively and try to control what their citizens can access, we should block their access to US-based digital data comprehensively.

The US must recognize that PRC and Russian companies are weapons of the state: Such companies are not allowed to operate in the US or with our allies. This is especially true where asymmetry is imposed. For example, Visa does not fully operate in Chinaso Alipay – and its parent company Alibaba – should not be allowed to operate in the US. Much of the value that the PRC derives from the activities of these US companies is the extraction of large data sets that are used to train AI, which can then be weaponized against American citizens.

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The US must sponsor the development and deployment of low-cost, high-performance satellite Internet endpoints directly to the citizens of authoritarian regimes. These endpoints should be covert, be fast enough to download videos, and provide unrestricted access to the full bandwidth of the Western Internet. Elon Musk’s mission by Starlink in support of our Allies in Ukraine is spearheading the potential of new satellite networks to spread Western values ​​and undermine the institutions of our adversaries.

When Western states cannot control the movement of digital data across borders, opponents exploit this openness. The beautiful anarchy of the early internet became a tool for subversion and oppression. Western powers need to counteract this dynamic by re-establishing the Internet as a tool for promoting our values ​​and advancing our interests. The US cannot control what goes in and out of China, but we can and should enforce a symmetrical flow of digital information through the world’s Great Firewall, while establishing channels for direct communication with the subjects of autocratic regimes.


Michael Hochberg is President of Luminous Computing.

General Robert Spalding is a national security expert who has served in senior strategy and diplomatic positions in the Departments of Defense and State for more than 26 years.






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