Once upon a time, an individual country’s ability to influence the activities of others was dependent on its geographical constraints and the power of its government to project power militarily, formulate trade agreements or institute embargos. These mechanisms still exist, but now move at hyper-speed thanks to a world shrunk by rapidly evolving digital technologies, such as artificial intelligence, and the data explosion. This is redrawing the map in terms of global spheres of influence, opening the door to new and emerging players. 

In this episode, Ian Thornton-Trump CD, CISO for Cyjax, Lisa Forte, Partner at Red Goat Security and Philip Ingram MBE, CEO of Grey Hare Media discuss how these modern forces manifest, how much power is truly being wielded, and what effect this is likely to have on a year when some of world’s biggest and most influential powers are holding elections. Digital technology is now a tool of geopolitical influence, leveraged by nation states to develop natural resources and infrastructure – especially those countries crying out for such investment. Our panel sees a resulting shifting of geopolitical structures.

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Pragmatism triumphs

Our panel also discuss how Chinese and Russian pragmatism is playing out in both South American and Africa markets putting the ‘Democracy Club’ (lead by the economic powerhouse of the United States of America) at a major disadvantage. This is damaging the UN and UN Security Council's influence, making it limited at best and non-consequential at worst. These forces are also at play in the Middle East within the complex relationship between Shia and Sunni muslims. 

In the context of elections, all geopolitical spheres of influence are at work exerting their capabilities to encourage a favourable outcome. The ability of big data repositories to be used for targeted influence campaigns against groups and individual cannot be underestimated in their capacity for election disruption.

Is democracy dead?

The various ways artificial intelligence can support propaganda and outright conspiracy theories is also addressed, along with the worrying side effect of eroding trust in the democratic process and engendering a feeling of futility among voters due to a seeming inability to effect positive change. But despite concerns over election integrity and voter manipulation, our panel expresses a mixed view on the effectiveness of fraud in the overall democratic process. Meanwhile, all three identify the India and US elections as the ones to watch for a clash of influence campaigns between Chinese and Russian operations, each vying of outcomes that favor their individual geopolitical aims.

Our panel also discusses how sowing the seeds of electoral discontent through influence campaigns increases polarization of views, which in turn drives a growth in support for right-leaning political parties and a swing towards more nationalistic governments – a view that is largely supported by recent election results in Europe. Whatever your view, our panel conclude that it's important to make an informed decision at the polls – yet this is something that’s becoming increasingly difficult to do. We wrap up with some personal advice on how to navigate the confusing times ahead.

Good luck! Because you’ll need it!