A national AI policy is imperative

Throughout the recent past, Asia has been a testing ground for new and advanced weapons — the world’s first nuclear bomb in Japan, armed drones in Pakistan, and Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, etc. Despite being prone to consistent threats of superpowers surrounding Southeast Asia and in the presence of hostile neighbours like India (who are taking final steps to use AI in fighting conflicts by employing killer robots), Pakistan isn’t prepared yet.

At least sixty countries have adopted AI laws and policies since 2017 including India and Sri Lanka, while Bangladesh’s policy draft is open for public consultation. As AI is rapidly tearing down the old barriers to building new world orders, a national AI policy is imperative for Pakistan to secure its economic future by identifying new avenues of growth as well as projects of national interest to prepare for challenges posed by AI-influenced weapons in the near future. Undoubtedly, all major fronts of a national power like the economy, security and military strength are dependent on technological advancements. Therefore, leaders and scientists have been emphasising the significance of AI in the present era, and times ahead. Presidents of Russia, China and the US in different times have reiterated the potential benefits of AI and predicted the dominance of a country in global affairs that leads the way in AI research.

Even Pakistan’s National Security Policy 2022 puts economic security at the forefront of its national security vision, which means the relationship between the economy and national security has become increasingly interlinked. For Pakistan, a key priority should be the diffusion of AI across the economy to escalate growth and stimulate development and adoption of AI-powered tools in all priority areas including the defence sector.

Given the national importance of AI and its impact on the economic and defence sector, Pakistan should formulate a national AI policy to put the country on a growth trajectory and pave the way towards a smart future. A typical AI policy is based on multiple pillars, amongst which ‘economy and defence’ are the two most significant that could have a detrimental effect on society. A study by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) estimated that global GDP may increase up to 14% by 2030 due to accelerating developments in AI, which means it has the potential to double the annual global economic growth rates, as innovative technologies are affecting different sectors and opening new revenue streams. As AI is automating routine tasks such as with the introduction of self-driving vehicles, and assisting the existing workforce, it would not only enable the workforce to perform its task efficiently, but also allow humans free time to invest in higher value-added activities.

Regarding the future dynamics of international security requirements, and strategic shifts in defence, AI has now become a pillar of a state. The globalisation and advancement of weapon systems have ushered new challenges and threats the AI-integrated defence system poses to real-world military operations globally. So, to meet the new complex security challenges, it is important that our proposed AI policy should include practical steps and approaches towards employing AI in the defence arena. This, however, doesn’t mean that such developments could curtail our reliance on conventional capabilities in combating threats, which are equally significant.

The Government of Pakistan must be sensitive to time because it has already missed the industrial and informational ages, due to which it’s facing a dwindling economic situation. The only thing making us relevant in the regional and global arena is our nuclear power, which would soon not be enough in global politics. As William Shakespeare had once so elegantly remarked in his timeless classic Julius Caesar: “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves or lose our ventures.”

Published in The Express Tribune, March 13th, 2023.

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