The geopolitical implications of the US AI executive order

Technological superiority, brain poaching and the protection of American values are the three pillars on which the US AI strategy is built by Andrea Monti – Initially published in Italian by

The Executive Order on the Safe, Secure, and Trustworthy Development and Use of Artificial Intelligence  The order issued last October 30, 2023 by President Biden defines the position of the US goverment on AI, starting with the legal instrument chosen: an immediately effective provision that, waiting for the Congress to pass a comprehensive piece of legislation, provides the various offices with appropriate directions to follow in the short term.

The AI order is very structured and complex, therefore this analysis will focus only on the strategic issues concerning the AI role in the US techno-geopolitical strategy.

Techonological superiority is the first keypoint: ‘The rapid speed at which AI capabilities are advancing’, says the EO, ‘compels the United States to lead in this moment for the sake of our security, economy, and society.’

In a curious parallel with a similar order issued by the government of the People’s Republic of China, President Biden’s EO also addresses the importance of protecting national values (in this case, American) as a basis for future policy decisions: ‘AI reflects the principles of the people who build it, the people who use it, and the data upon which it is built.  I firmly believe that the power of our ideals; the foundations of our society; and the creativity, diversity, and decency of our people are the reasons that America thrived in past eras of rapid change.’

From the point of view of domestic and international relations, the declared choice is that of full decision-making autonomy with respect to civil society, allies and partners whose positions will be taken into account ‘as feasible’, thereby establishing the non-negotiability of executive decisions. This principle supports the next one, which prioritises the protection of national security and cutting-edge technologies in the hierarchy of interests at stake since the situation ‘also requires addressing AI systems’ most pressing security risks — including with respect to biotechnology, cybersecurity, critical infrastructure, and other national security dangers — while navigating AI’s opacity and complexity.’

Of particular interest is the decision to brain poach foreign students and researchers in order to attract them permanently to the US – and thus take them away from their home countries. The text of the executive order is extremely explicit on this point: ‘my Administration will support programs to provide Americans the skills they need for the age of AI and attract the world’s AI talent to our shores — not just to study, but to stay — so that the companies and technologies of the future are made in America.’

The principles outlined above form the basis for leadership on global regulation. Executive Biden will be an active participant in managing regulatory choices together with other nations ‘including our competitors’ (it is not difficult to read this as a synonym for ‘People’s Republic of China’). And it is precisely this last point that could turn into a new theatre of confrontation instead of cooperation.
As mentioned, both the US and China have placed the protection of their respective values and national security, which are essentially and understandably non-negotiable, at the basis of their political choices. Thus, the explicit reference to the containment of AI threats to human rights – an eminently Western legal category that has long been weaponised – could undermine the albeit commendable intention to arrive at a sort of pre-competitive truce.


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