One of the Next Big Idea Club's Must-Read Books
An award-winning defense expert tells the story of today’s great power rivalry—the struggle to control artificial intelligence.
A new industrial revolution has begun. Like mechanization or electricity before it, artificial intelligence will touch every aspect of our lives—and cause profound disruptions in the balance of global power, especially among the AI superpowers: China, the United States, and Europe. Autonomous weapons expert Paul Scharre takes readers inside the fierce competition to develop and implement this game-changing technology and dominate the future.
Four Battlegrounds argues that four key elements define this struggle: data, computing power, talent, and institutions. Data is a vital resource like coal or oil, but it must be collected and refined. Advanced computer chips are the essence of computing power—control over chip supply chains grants leverage over rivals. Talent is about people: which country attracts the best researchers and most advanced technology companies? The fourth “battlefield” is maybe the most critical: the ultimate global leader in AI will have institutions that effectively incorporate AI into their economy, society, and especially their military.
Scharre’s account surges with futuristic technology. He explores the ways AI systems are already discovering new strategies via millions of war-game simulations, developing combat tactics better than any human, tracking billions of people using biometrics, and subtly controlling information with secret algorithms. He visits China’s “National Team” of leading AI companies to show the chilling synergy between China’s government, private sector, and surveillance state. He interviews Pentagon leadership and tours U.S. Defense Department offices in Silicon Valley, revealing deep tensions between the military and tech giants who control data, chips, and talent. Yet he concludes that those tensions, inherent to our democratic system, create resilience and resistance to autocracy in the face of overwhelmingly powerful technology.
Engaging and direct, Four Battlegrounds offers a vivid picture of how AI is transforming warfare, global security, and the future of human freedom—and what it will take for democracies to remain at the forefront of the world order.
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