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.
About the Author
Paul Scharre is a former U.S. Army Ranger who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The author of the award-winning study of autonomous weapons Army of None he is currently executive vice president and director of studies at the Center for a New American Security. He lives in Virginia.
Should be required reading for anyone interested in the future of the global economy or geopolitics. — Thomas E. Ricks - New York Times Book Review
Scharre is a thoughtful, knowledgeable, and capable guide. He explains why AI matters and charts the areas that will determine which country gets the most out of its investments. — Lawrence Freedman - Foreign Affairs
An invaluable primer to arguably the most important driver of change for our future. Scharre marshals fact after fact to explain not just the technology, but the trends soon to unfold and remake our world. — P. W. Singer, author of Burn-In
Paul Scharre argues that the AI race between democratic and authoritarian states is well underway, and the stakes could not be higher: whoever wins will write the international rules of the next century. With revealing anecdotes, cogent analysis, and incisive insight, Scharre demystifies AI and its national security implications. If you read one book on AI this year, read this one! — Michèle Flournoy, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy
How will AI change the balance of power between authoritarian states and democracies? This is one of the most important questions in geopolitics today. Authoritarians have already figured out how to use AI to their maximum advantage, and democrats must urgently do the same or risk losing the contest. First step: Read this book, a farsighted and comprehensive survey of the issues involved and the paths forward. — Pedro Domingos, author of The Master Algorithm
America and its military are facing a major test when it comes to AI. The country that best incorporates artificial intelligence technology into its defense will have significant military advantages over its competitors. Four Battlegrounds is an essential book for everyone involved in American leadership and American defense, because it outlines the challenges we face and explains the key components that will determine our success in using this important new technology to support American power and American ideals.
— Admiral James Stavridis, 16th Supreme Allied Commander of NATO
In this riveting book on AI and power by one of the leading strategists of our time, Paul Scharre highlights an existential challenge: as Americans and Chinese militarize ever more powerful AI to avoid ceding control to each other, they risk ceding too much power to machines. — Prof. Max Tegmark, MIT AI researcher and author of Life 3.0
A must-read guide to how the emerging artificial intelligence arms race will shape the geopolitical, economic, and political struggle between China and its authoritarian allies and the democratic West led by the United States and Europe. — Martin Ford, author of Rule of the Robots and Rise of the Robots
A solid, well-organized account of the military applications of AI and of the race to take the lead global position. — Kirkus Reviews
Technophiles and technophobes alike will be challenged and enlightened. — Publishers Weekly
Readers knowledgeable about computer science will find it clarifying, while other will gain immense understand of an often opaque if important subject. — James Pekoll - Booklist