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Artificial intelligence and Renewables: The new frontiers of geopolitics during and after the pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic, which since the beginning of last year has affected the entire planet with tragic effects and, due to inertial pressure, seems destined to continue for most of the current year, has not only had very severe effects in terms of general mortality (over 2.5 million deaths to date), but has also generated catastrophic economic and social consequences in many countries of the world, starting with Italy.

As soon as the pandemic crisis is finally over from the health viewpoint, the governments of all affected countries shall necessarily find the right instruments to set the economy again into motion by seeking new opportunities for development and recovery which, if properly seized and implemented, in the next decade could make us live in a better world than the one we left behind.

Last December a think tank of authoritative economists, co-chaired by Professor Mario Draghi, namely the “Group of Thirty”, published the results of a study entitled “Reviving and Restructuring the Corporate Sector Post-Covid: Designing Public Policy Interventions”.

The study starts from the observation that the epidemic has “dramatically changed business paradigms worldwide, triggering a solvency crisis for companies in many countries”.

This is now a structural crisis that requires politicians and governments to find financial support instruments for companies that can restart production and development.

The path indicated by the “Group of Thirty” is complex, but it starts from the need for politicians to immediately provide proactive support to the private sector companies which have already demonstrate actual resilience abilities, so that the “scarce public resources” are directed towards sectors that can recover quickly and drive the global economy’s relaunch.

In this regard, the “Group of Thirty” recommends that “policymakers should carefully consider the allocation of resources…which should not be wasted on subsidies to sectors doomed to failure”, but rather allocated to sectors that can recover from the crisis quickly and in a socially and economically acceptable manner.

The first sectors identified by the ‘Group of Thirty’ as deserving immediate support because of their potential to drive recovery are digitalisation and the “green” economy.

It is therefore no coincidence that in the programme of the Italian government now led by Professor Draghi, the “digital revolution and the green economy” are top priorities for the strategic interventions to be implemented with the European Recovery Plan funds.

If appropriately matched by public support for smart, intelligent and effective forms of mutual interaction, digitalisation and the green economy can be decisive not only in the post-pandemic ‘recovery’, but can also deliver to our children a better, more efficient and healthier world than the one in which we lived before the coronavirus devastated our lives.

The pandemic, however, has hit the whole world regardless of borders, political tensions, regional problems, wars or riots.

It has affected the West and the East, the North and the South, without discrimination between rich and poor. The end of the crisis could therefore provide to politicians the chance for a new start, also under the banner of new forms of solidarity and international cooperation which, besides the Covid-19, will wipe away old-fashioned and anti-cyclical barriers that could severely damage the ‘construction of a better world’.

In this regard, it is no coincidence that Pope Francis’ first international commitment for the year 2021 was to visit the unfortunate Iraq not only to bring solidarity to the Christians persecuted and exterminated by the Caliphate, but above all to build a bridge towards Shiite and Sunni Muslims in the name of their common descent from Abraham.

The Pope’s meeting with Ayatollah Al Sistani, the highest religious figure in the Shiite world, shows that the possibility of opening up channels of dialogue between political and religious entities separated by centuries of enmity is concrete and feasible, even in view of the post-pandemic renaissance.

Pope Francis’ message should hopefully also reach the new Catholic President of the United States who, a few weeks after taking office at the White House, showed- in his initial foreign policy moves – a superpower’s aggressive and revanchist spirit that probably the Americans (and not only them) had hoped would be left behind with the end of Donald Trump’s era.

The opening up to Iran matched by bombings of Iranian militias in Iraq, as well as chill in the relations with Saudi Arabia, and unmotivated aggressiveness towards China – which has indeed shown the world it has been the first to emerge from the pandemic and has taken on the health support of many African countries – are all moves that do not bode well for the search for realistic models of peaceful coexistence on the part of the world’s leading power, namely the United States.

If the world’s recovery from the pandemic is to be driven by science, as hoped by the ‘Group of Thirty’, it is precisely in this field that international collaboration should be closer and more effective (as has been the case in the research, production and distribution of vaccines).

A fundamental contribution to scientific progress will certainly come from progress in the field of Artificial Intelligence, a tool designed to support human intelligence, which will be able to accelerate and improve the processes of widespread digitalisation hoped for by many governments, starting with Italy’s, in the drive for productive recovery.

In the field of Artificial Intelligence, as in vaccine research, there should be no excessive room for the isolationist tendencies that have always damaged science and encouraged illegal espionage.

Electricity was discovered by Edison, but no one could keep it within the United States’ borders.

Industry has always outstripped politics in its ability to talk (and do business) across borders.

Yet, on March 1, the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, established by President Trump two years ago, published its final report in which it essentially suggested that the President and Congress should use artificial intelligence research as a tool for “surrogate” warfare against China.

The National Security Commission’s report reads as follows: “We must engage in competition on artificial intelligence… Competition will foster innovation and we must work with our partners to foster progress in this field as in the vaccine sector …But we must win the Artificial Intelligence competition by intensifying the strategic confrontation with China. China’s plans, resources and progress should be of great concern to all Americans. China is second to none in Artificial Intelligence and is even a leader in some of its applications. We recommend that China’s ambition to overtake the United States in Artificial Intelligence research and become the leader in this field over the next decade be taken seriously.

Therefore, in the words and recommendations of these scientists, scientific progress should be instrumental to the competition for ranking first geostrategically.

Fortunately, serious scientists all over the world cooperate in common research much more than their governments might like, and the same holds true for the companies that are looking for work and growth opportunities even beyond the borders “liked” by politicians.

Let us take the case of research and development in renewable energy, a fundamental link in the “green economy” which, according to the suggestions of the “Group of Thirty” and the European and Italian Recovery projects, should receive public support and drive the economic recovery.

While the American dream of both Trump and Biden is to create a barbed wire fence around China, Europe and Italy have understood that they can and must cooperate with the Eastern giant, starting with the search for ‘clean’ energy from wind, sun and sea.

Also thanks to the personal commitment of the young Chinese Minister for Energy Resources, Lu Hao, who a few months ago, at the inauguration of the Chinese Expo for Maritime Economy in Shenzhen, stated that China intended to promote “the creation of a new development model that would make it possible to understand and manage the dialectic between the protection of the marine ecosystem and the use of the sea as an energy source”, in recent weeks the foundations have been laid for collaboration in marine energy research and production between the Italian Eldor Corporation, supported by the International World Group, and the National Ocean Technology Centre in Shenzhen, through the development of devices to obtain energy from wave motion and the hydrogen contained in seawater. If these projects are adequately supported by the governments of Italy, Europe and China, they will provide a fundamental contribution to getting the world out of the crisis quickly and effectively.

With all due respect to those across the Atlantic who have not yet realised that the pandemic crisis also calls for a smart redefinition of the economic frontiers of geopolitics.

Giancarlo Elia Valori