BANGALORE: The rise of nationalism around the world can be attributed to the void created by the end of communism and liberalism, which the 21st century failed to fill with a new ideology, former national security adviser M.K. Narayanan said Thursday. 

“If in the 20th century, two global ideologies — communism and liberalism — met with a premature end, what is significant in the 21st century is that no new ideologies have emerged,” he said, addressing a conclave organised by Synergia Foundation, an independent think-tank. 

“The vacuum, instead, is being rapidly filled by nationalism here and elsewhere in the world,” he added. 

The three-day conclave has been organised for discussions on a wide range of security-related matters. Narayanan’s address came during a session titled ‘The Future of Security: Digital (cyber) Security’.

Narayanan said the current state of affairs made it very difficult to forecast the future of security. 

“What we are now witnessing across the globe is a new brand of leaders, who practise a kind of personalised authoritarianism, which is making the world a very difficult place,” he added. “In these circumstances, forecasting the future of security becomes much more difficult.”

However, he did weigh in on the multiple challenges the world could face in the coming years, including rogue AI and space conflicts.

The Challenges of AI, Space

Talking about threats in the cyber sphere, Narayanan said the monetary value of data had surpassed that of fossil fuels, adding that technology could be an enemy or a friend.

He said the internet was facilitating cyber criminality and surveillance engines that can trade privacy for entertainment and distraction. While acknowledging that Artificial Intelligence (AI) had the potential to solve complex problems, he said it was not an all-encompassing solution.

Badly-designed AI, he added, could cause more harm than good, saying it was vital to invest in building proper systems. Across the world, he said, it is evident that decision-makers do not possess proper knowledge of AI.

Underlining the importance of the technology in future conflicts, he said AI-enabled warfare would change the character of future battlefields and “upset the balance of power”.

The US, China and Russia, he said, have all invested considerable funds to militarise AI.

Narayanan also predicted that, in the coming years, challenges to security in outer space will in all likelihood replace the threats posed by proliferation of nuclear weapons.

He talked about China and India’s strengthening capabilities in outer space and how they had tested anti-satellite weapons.

“Some of the more advanced nations are engaged in building military satellites with the capability to use lasers to jam enemy signals or even blowing up enemy satellites,” he said.

He also added that terrorism is likely to continue. “The broad sweep acquired by radical Islamist extremism in the early 21st century is unlikely to be halted,” he said.