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FROM THE ANTHOLOGY: The Best of 2018

How Artificial Intelligence Will Reshape the Global Order

The Coming Competition Between Digital Authoritarianism and Liberal Democracy

A police officer checks the identity card of a man as security forces keep watch in a street in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, March 2017. Thomas Peter / REUTERS

The debate over the effects of artificial intelligence has been dominated by two themes. One is the fear of a singularity, an event in which an AI exceeds human intelligence and escapes human control, with possibly disastrous consequences. The other is the worry that a new industrial revolution will allow machines to disrupt and replace humans in every—or almost every—area of society, from transport to the military to healthcare.

There is also a third way in which AI promises to reshape the world. By allowing governments to monitor, understand, and control their citizens far more closely than ever before, AI will offer authoritarian countries a plausible alternative to liberal democracy, the first since the end of the Cold War. That will spark renewed international competition between social systems.

For decades, most political theorists have believed that liberal democracy offers the only path to sustained economic success. Either governments

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