The nascent field of computational diplomacy could offer a helpful perspective. Grounded in complexity theory and computational social science, it provides an operational toolkit for analyzing, modelling, and simulating geopolitical incidents. It entails mining data generated by diplomatic negotiations such as official correspondence, formal agreements, meeting transcripts, media reports and online campaigns. By trawling and making sense of large data sets, computational diplomacy throws up possible scenarios and simulates different courses of action for all contingencies considered. It leverages recent advances in data science, deep learning, and massive computations of highly complex systems to facilitate the quantitative forecasting of intricate international relations including the fraught US-China technology decoupling.
By calculating the costs of different courses of action for any given scenario, and by identifying the key actors of interest – states, companies, individuals, non-governmental organizations, and other players – the full range of diplomatic moves could be robustly assessed just as AlphaGo, the computer program developed by Google’s DeepMind Technologies, did when it mastered the challenging board game Go.
Experiments of computational diplomacy are already ongoing in institutions such as the University of Geneva and ETH Zürich, which together established the interdisciplinary Lab for Science in Diplomacy (SiDLab) in collaboration with the independent Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator (GESDA), a foundation focused on combining the anticipative power of science with diplomacy. Other natural hubs could emerge to conduct similar interdisciplinary research that marry insights from complexity science with political science and international relations. Critical nodes in the international diplomatic circuit come to mind including New York which hosts the United Nations, the Hague with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the International Criminal Court (ICC), or Singapore where the secretariat of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum is located. These cities already have thriving ecosystems of universities, research institutes and think tanks that could embark on interdisciplinary research in computational diplomacy.
While computational diplomacy is still a nascent field, the “proof of concept” for such an approach was demonstrated by scientists at Meta (parent company of Facebook) with their recent success with Cicero, the first AI agent to attain human-level performance in Diplomacy, a strategic board game released in 1959. Players must strike a fine balance between cooperation and competition with others to vanquish opponents. Cicero deployed natural language negotiation and tactical coordination skills that characterize diplomatic engagement. It made use of human-AI interactions and then outperformed human participants, ranking among the top 10 percent of those who played more than one game.
Sceptics may argue that international relations are no board game. But as with many other complex systems, it would be helpful and most likely highly revealing to consider the prospects for computational methods in deriving deeper insights into intricate dependencies. The CHIPS and Science Act may trigger collateral damage and unanticipated consequences with an uncertain timeline. But the computing power supplied by these ubiquitous chips – along with analytical frameworks offered by computational diplomacy – could help us avoid these pitfalls.