Got trust? Global governance of emerging technologies

November 2023

Emerging technology is a ubiquitous term in common usage among those seeking to make sense of a rapidly evolving global strategic environment in part because it can be understood as capturing both the promise and peril of fast paced technological advancements in the fields of artificial intelligence and quantum technologies.

The Biden Administration’s Executive Order on Safe, Secure, and Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence highlighted a dichotomy between “seizing the promise and managing the risks'' of artificial intelligence as the basis for introducing a new regulatory framework for governing the design, testing, and use of AI systems in the United States. Such dichotomies of opportunity and risk also feature prominently in NATO’s 2022 Strategic Concept adopted at the Madrid Summit, in the Quad (Australia, India, Japan, and Australia), which set out the Quad Principles on Technology Design, Development, Governance, and Use, and the Australia, United Kingdom, and United States trilateral security and defence partnership, or AUKUS’, Pillar II on advanced capabilities programs.

To be sure, emerging technologies have come into greater focus in part because of the pressures to innovate and maintain technological, economic, and military competitiveness on the one hand, and the uncertain prospects for use, harm, and vulnerability that these developments will bring on the other. Emerging technologies therefore are understood to present opportunities in terms of acting as a catalyst for securing strategic advantage over potential adversaries in terms of both economic competitiveness and military capabilities. In addition, emerging technologies are also considered as a driver of positive change to societal challenges that range from more efficient and improved governance and countering illicit activities, to responding to the impacts of climate change.

Yet, the promise of emerging technologies when it comes to economic and military competitiveness, and also confronting broader societal challenges, brings with it new and emerging vulnerabilities, some of which are known, some of which may never come to pass, and some of which are still unknown.

For example, artificial intelligence has accelerated, and arguably improved the effectiveness of targeted disinformation campaigns that came into focus during the previous decade. While digital marketers embrace AI tools to automate digital content, malign actors embrace these very same tools to flood digital spaces with disinformation. AI-enabled disinformation can deepen polarization, incite violence, and diminish public trust in state institutions. In short, the same tool that allows us to generate images and texts for a number of more benign purposes, can easily be weaponized against open societies. As large language models may transform how we get information from the web (rather than entering a search term and getting a list of webpages, we can now ask a question and get a referenced response written in paragraph form), so too will how we counter disinformation require adapting to these changes.

While disinformation is just one example, Japan’s 2023 Diplomatic Bluebook points out how “the boundary between military and non-military fields has become blurred” by emerging technologies. Indeed, it is observed:

Technological innovations such as the fifth-generation mobile communications systems (5G), artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), quantum technology and others are not only bringing about substantive changes in society and daily life, but are also directly linked to national competitiveness, as well as to moves to strengthen military power as dual-use technologies for both military and civilian applications (pp. 5-6).

From rare earths to semiconductors, technologies that rely on significant computational power and the ability to store and process large amounts of data have shifted strategic thinking towards and necessitated new frameworks for cooperation in technological fields that reduce vulnerabilities to economic coercion, but necessitate joint efforts to foster research in particularly sensitive domains among groupings of states among which there is a high degree of trust. Conversely, interdependence in the field of emerging technologies will weaken where this trust is not present. Indeed, the proliferation of frameworks for cooperation on emerging technologies attests to how the fabric of global governance is shifting in response to anxieties and uncertainties that surround emerging technologies.


AUKUS Pillar 2: Background and Issues for Congress, Congressional Research Service (June 20, 2023).

Fact Sheet: President Biden Issues Executive Order on Safe, Secure, and Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence. The White House (2023, October 30).

Finding Language Models in Influence Operations.

NATO 2022 Strategic Concept

Overview of the International Situation and Outlook for Japan’s Diplomacy. Diplomatic Bluebook 2023.

Quad Principles on Technology Design, Development, Governance, and Use. The White House (2021, September 25).

Sophistication, scope, and scale: Digital threats from East Asia increase in breadth and effectiveness. Microsoft Threat Intelligence. (September, 2023).

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