Source: https://twitter.com/NATOSouthernHUB – Aspects from the event
During the beginning of November 2023, between 7th and 9th, the Allied Command Transformation, under the Open Perspectives Exchange Network framework, and the NATO Strategic Direction-South Hub, organized the “OPEN Study Days Conference” in Naples, Italy, with the theme “Utilizing Artificial Intelligence (Al) in Middle East and North Africa”. Therefore, the purpose of these “OPEN Study Days” was to enhance the understanding of the potential challenges and opportunities, in the medium to long-term future focusing on the use of artificial intelligence in the Middle East and North Africa region.
The conference was a good opportunity for experts in the field to exchange views and ideas freely between NATO and non-NATO representatives and organizations, while bringing together military and civilian communities of interest. In this context, MEPEI was represented by Prof. Ecaterina MAŢOI, program director of the Association and lecturer at Basel University, Switzerland.
Overall, the basis of the Open Perspectives Exchange Network Project is to identify the benefits, ways and means associated with exchanging views and ideas on matters relevant to the Alliance. To operationalize this, the Network focuses on a non-classified human network exchange through academic articles on a wide range of topics. It seeks alternative perspectives on matters of importance to NATO and others and aims to produce alternative, disruptive and even provocative views that are of interest to the Alliance.
Among the main ideas that resulted from this event, one that is also reflected in the media in the past years regards the leadership of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s members in the AI field, and precisely, the development of this domain in countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Moreover, their leadership is directly related to the capital investment in AI, be it financial, technological or human capital. The resources allocated are directly proportional with the results they promote, thus even governmental strategies contributed to their 2023 high ranking in the AI field worldwide. Also, the investment in education in this field brings extra results and demonstrates the long-term impact of their national strategies.
Nonetheless, there are other countries in the MENA region which started to invest massively in the field of artificial intelligence, such as Qatar, Egypt, Morocco and Israel.
However, between the many benefits and particular advantages of the AI utilization, there are negative aspects which can deter the world nowadays to solely focus on the usage of this technology. For example, in conflict situations, such as the current conflict between Hamas and Israel, the AI is only worsening the situation. On top of that, the tools of AI are widely used for the spread of fake news, disinformation, misinformation and propaganda messages, especially with regards to the conflict between Ukraine and Russia.
Still, the speakers of the event promoted the expansion of the discussion regarding the utilization of AI from MENA to Africa due to its great potential for development and empowering the region.
Another topic of interest regarding AI was the impact on the critical infrastructure, where cyber resilience is key. Also, AI improves the efficiency and effectiveness of critical infrastructure, but also brings new risks, on security, national economic security, public health, safety and welfare of people. With all the advantages, there is an increased number of vulnerabilities that appear, such as disruptions of the critical infrastructure: power grids, nuclear power plants, energy (oil and gas), communication networks, supply networks, transport, health sector, etc.; more sophisticated malware, examples like “pipedream®️” targeting industrial control systems; autonomous agents, for example “chaosGPT”, automating phishing attacks; and it becomes easier and cheaper to launch attacks than to build an effective defense, in which case, hackers have the advantage.
Moreover, AI improves civilian training in many ways, but also creates vulnerabilities. It is efficient in disaster prediction, resource optimization, or predictive maintenance. On top of that, AI models are used for dynamic risk analysis to help identify vulnerabilities and early hazard detection. AI can also automate complex processes, reducing the potential for human error and increasing efficiency. But, with regards to civilian training, there were also vulnerabilities identified, such as the perpetuation of discrimination (gender, racial, etc.) and biases; misinformation due to intrinsic hallucinations in fundamental models; vulnerabilities in human handling; data privacy concerns; robustness and secure performance of long learning language models (LLM); interpretability and auditability of AI decision logic; problems with transparency; and also the fact that AI introduces both complexities and uncertainties.
Specifically regarding the AI in MENA and particularly in the GCC, speakers underlined that a higher usage of AI in business functions could unlock at least $1506 billion of untapped value for GCC economies. Currently, 62% of CCG businesses use AI in at least one area, while energy and materials companies are rapidly adopting AI. Still, AI adoption is low in some functions where the value potential is significant, such as manufacturing, indicating missed opportunities. In the past year, the Middle East was one of the top five regions in the world with the highest percentage of malware blocked in industrial control systems.
In what concerns the military usage of AI, it is important to note that modern military operations are conducted in a dynamic, changing and challenging environment. Information collection technologies, communications, assets, etc., provide a constant flow of data, and this operational environment requires the instantaneous analysis of large volumes of data. Advances in information and communication technologies (ICT) support decision makers in the process of accessing and using these vast volumes of data and information. Moreover, technology helps in providing more solutions to help decision makers make prompt and well thought out decisions. Today, the operational environment is filled with various devices capable of collecting, analyzing and delivering data in an instant. They are driven by powerful AI engines, use modern simulation software and machine learning algorithms. Technology, implemented for a specific operational environment, can provide commanders and their staff with the data they need and the correct and definitive solutions that exist for the given case.
However, compliance with the law is essential, and current operational frameworks – whether in peacetime or wartime – are underpinned by legal frameworks and customary principles of war. Therefore, technology alone is not enough, lacking the social and legal dimensions of operations, and their simple analysis lacks objectivity and humanity, essential aspects of decision-making in modern operations. While most of these emerging technologies are useful, they may also jeopardize the type of decision support in light of modern and demanding military operations.
Therefore, this technology can be a driver of growth across economies and industry, and will hopefully limit conflicts, while increasing collaboration in the future.
About the author:
Prof. Ecaterina MATOI is Program Director at MEPEI.