National Tech Rhetoric in a Global AI Race. Sketching Imaginaries between Smart Societies and Fierce Geopolitics

Project description

The question of how to integrate AI technologies into the functioning and structures of our society has become a central concern of contemporary politics and public debates. In this dissertation, I investigate civil and military national AI strategies as a particular form of co-shaping this development, a hybrid of policy and discourse that offers imaginaries, allocates resources, and sets rules.

I qualitatively analyze and compare AI strategy papers and military position papers on autonomous weapon systems (AWS) of the leading AI nations, the United States, China, France, and Germany, (selectively) in terms of their imaginary production of social, normative, and geopolitical aspirations.

Current research focuses on industry, academic, or public debates about the discursive construction of AI. Certainly, governments are influenced by public and private narratives, but they are themselves powerful players in shaping our perceptions and expectations of AI. Interestingly, scholars have not yet analyzed government positioning on AI and its role in producing visions of the future that not only include categories of economic prosperity but also public good narratives and geopolitical security aspirations. By proclaiming an international AI race, governments endow their imaginary pathways with massive resources and investments and contribute to co-producing the installment of these futures.

Conceptually, the dissertation draws on the concept of sociotechnical imaginaries (SIs), debates in technology assessment (TA), international relations, the sociology of expectations, and literature about the technological sublime and myths.

The PhD project sets out to investigate the following research domains:

Empirical and descriptive analysis

  • What constitutes the SIs found in the civil and military AI strategy papers of four key players in the field, namely France, USA, China, and Germany? What kinds of national idealizations of social life and statehood are enabled through the use of AI and AWS?
  • Notwithstanding the different AI and AWS idealizations, is there consistency in the narrative and argumentative construction of these imaginaries?

Regulatory and institutional analysis

  • What are the direct political effects of these different AI SIs on the current geopolitical aspirations of the respective states (case study on the positioning of the US and China)? Specifically, how does it affect the legal and ethical regulation of military AI in the UN regulatory process?

Reassessment of theoretical foundations

  • To what extent do SIs not only reflect cultural and political aspirations but can also be used as strategic national weapons of confusion and deterrence? How does this affect the trust dimension in AI regulation?
  • How should/can policy advice and TA respond to national efforts to advance national interests and reject regulatory proposals? Theoretically speaking, what normative foundations are required to account for such maneuvers?

Administrative data

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Armin Grunwald
Advisor: PD Dr. Andreas Lösch
Related projects: Social trust in learning systems
Doctoral students at ITAS: see Doctoral studies at ITAS


Jascha Bareis, M.A.
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)
Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS)
P.O. Box 3640
76021 Karlsruhe

Tel.: +49 721 608-24616