IGF 2018 WS #423 AI and the future of diplomacy: What’s in store?

Salle VII

Organizer 1: Stephanie Borg Psaila, DiploFoundation

Speaker 1: Jorge Cancio, Government, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 2: Lee Hibbard, Intergovernmental Organization, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 3: Michael Nelson, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 4: Lucena Claudio, Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)
Speaker 5: Stephanie Borg Psaila, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Additional Speakers

Dr Katharina Höne, DiploFoundation


Jovan Kurbalija

Online Moderator

Virdzinija Saveska


Sorina Teleanu


Break-out Group Discussions - 90 Min


As described under point VIII, the resource persons will introduce the three main topics and will facilitate the discussions within the break-out group.


The proposed format of the session does not involve speakers or panellists in the traditional sense. Diversity in this session will come from the session participants themselves, who will contribute to the discussions from the perspective of their own stakeholder group, region, etc. Session organisers will make sure to actively promote the session so that a diversity of participants is ensured.

The session will be organised in the format of a world cafe. At the start of the session, the moderator will explain the format and content, and then three resource persons will introduce the three main topics: 1. AI and the international geopolitical environment The introduction will include a brief overview of the approaches that several countries around the world are taking towards AI development (national plans, strategies, policies) 2. AI as a topic on the international agenda The introduction will include a brief overview of existing and possible implications of AI for different digital policy areas (economy, labour market, taxation, privacy, cybersecurity, etc.). 3. AI as a tool for diplomacy The introduction will include examples of AI put to use in diplomatic activities: reporting, consular affairs, public diplomacy, negotiations. The audience will then be divided in three groups, and each group will explore the policy questions indicated under point VII above. At the end of the session, each group should come up with several messages reflecting the key points from their discussions.

As described above, the session will focus on interactions among participants. The introductions from resource persons will be limited to no more than 7 min each, and the rest of the session will be allocated to the break-out groups discussions. At the end of the session, each group will report on its main findings.

AI is around and under continuous evolution. We see it in various applications, from translation tools to self-driving cars and beyond. There are more and more discussions around AI, and the opportunities and challenges it brings to various sectors. These discussions range from fact to fiction and from dystopian views to practical interpretations. But the technology is here to stay and it will continue to influence all aspects of society. And this is also the case with diplomacy and international relations. The proposed session will build on three main themes that emerged from a first discussion initiated by DiploFoundation in Malta in November 2017 (see: 15years.diplomacy.edu): 1. AI and the global geopolitical environment Today, many have strong views on the future of digitalisation: Elon Musk: ‘AI is “a fundamental risk” to the existence of human civilisation.’ Vladimir Putin: ‘Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere (AI) will become the ruler of the world.’ Stephen Hawking: ‘Success in creating effective AI, could be the biggest event in the history of our civilization. Or the worst. We just don't know.’ In particular, more and more countries are becoming aware of the economic, political, and even military potential of AI, and are devising plans and strategies to support progress in these areas at national level. What does this mean for the international geopolitical environment? Are we witnessing a new global race? What could be the effects of such a race on the global balance of powers and even on international stability and security? Could AI be a game changer in international affairs? If so, how? 2. AI as a topic on the international agenda As it was the case with the Internet, which quickly found its way on international agenda, AI is also drawing the attention of policy-makers at the international level. The policy implications of AI – in areas such as the economy, the social systems, safety and security, and human rights – are becoming increasingly prominent on the agenda of international organisations and foras, from the IGF and the WSIS Forum, to the ITU and the ILO. In May 2018, French President Emmanuel Macron suggested a global structure … And there are voices arguing that specific regulations are needed to govern AI. Are international organisations THE place to address the policy implications of AI? Should they start working on international rules to govern the evolution and use of AI? Are such rules even possible? Following the model of the IGF, should there be an AI governance forum? 3. AI as a tool for diplomacy As the Internet evolved, it has become an indispensable tool for diplomats and other practitioners in international affairs. Following the same model, AI can also be used in diplomacy and international affairs to assist diplomats in performing certain tasks and making certain decisions. Big data and algorithms can help diplomats make more informed and accurate decisions, for example. But what next? Which core diplomatic functions can and cannot be automated? Can negotiations be programmed, and can empathy be digitalised? What are the risks and benefits of using AI in diplomatic activities? Can diplomats themselves be replaced by intelligent machines? Should they?

Online Participation

Given the proposed session format, online participation via a single Webex room might prove to be difficult. To overcome this, the online moderator will brief online participants about the questions to be discussed in the three groups, and will invite online participants to reflect on these questions. Any input from online participants will be provided immediately to the breakout groups.

Session Time
Session Report (* deadline 26 October) - click on the ? symbol for instructions

Session Type (Workshop, Open Forum, etc.): Workshop
Title: WS #423 AI and the future of diplomacy: What’s in store?
Date & Time: 13 November, 15:00 - 16:30
Organizer(s): DiploFoundation
Chair/Moderator: Jorge Cancio, Federal Office of Communications (OFCOM), Switzerland

Rapporteur/Notetaker: Marco Lotti, DiploFoundation, Switzerland
List of speakers and their institutional affiliations (Indicate male/female/ transgender male/ transgender female/gender variant/prefer not to answer):
- Mr Claudio Lucena, Paraiba State University in Brazil, Foundation for Science and Technology, Portugal
- Mr Michael Nelso, Cloudflare, USA
- Ms Katharina Höne, DiploFoundation, Germany

Theme (as listed here): Emerging Technologies
Subtheme (as listed here): ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
Please state no more than three (3) key messages of the discussion. [150 words or less]
- While some countries are focusing on how to become forerunners in developing and using AI technology, others are left behind, not being able to keep up with AI developments. And this is an issue that needs to be paid more attention to.
- Transparency is needed when governments are developing and using algorithms in delivering services, alongside education and digital literacy programmes.
- Accountability mechanisms need to be developed to ensure that the government's use of machine learning is ethical. 

Please elaborate on the discussion held, specifically on areas of agreement and divergence. [150 words] Examples: There was broad support for the view that…; Many [or some] indicated that…; Some supported XX, while others noted YY…; No agreement…

The relation between AI and diplomacy/international relations has many dimensions. First, AI could be used as a tool for diplomacy: applications such as machine translation and data analytics could help diplomats fulfil their tasks with more efficiency. Second, AI is a topic on the international agenda, where related issues gain more and more visibility. And, third, states are increasingly focusing on national AI strategies, understanding that, as forerunners in this field, they could enhance their position in the international relations system.
Countries are trying to understand how they could make the best use of AI (in areas such as public services, content policy, cybersecurity, combating crime, etc.) and are adopting national strategies. And while there is no broad agreement on whether (more) regulation around AI (nationally or internationally) is needed, issues such as the future of work to lethal autonomous weapon systems are becoming increasingly predominant on the international agenda. 

Please describe any policy recommendations or suggestions regarding the way forward/potential next steps. [100 words]
- Irrespective of the type of applications of AI, we need to ensure that meaningful human control/oversight mechanisms are in place to validate (or not) decisions made by algorithms.
- Accountability mechanisms need to be developed to ensure that the government's use of machine learning is ethical. 
What ideas surfaced in the discussion with respect to how the IGF ecosystem might make progress on this issue? [75 words]
Participants were encouraged to contribute to the work of the BPF on AI, IoT and Big data.
Please estimate the total number of participants.
70 (more were interested in attending, but the room did not allow this)
Please estimate the total number of women and gender-variant individuals present.
Close to half of the participants were women.
To what extent did the session discuss gender issues, and if to any extent, what was the discussion? [100 words]