This year’s Bilderberg summit is all about war – but what they all want to conquer is artificial intelligence
The 2018 Bilderberg summit is a council of war. On the agenda: Russia and Iran. In the conference room: Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of Nato, Ursula von der Leyen, the German defence minister, and Bernard Émié, the director of the French foreign intelligence service, DGSE.
They are joined in Turin, Italy, by a slew of academic strategists and military theorists, but for those countries in geopolitical hotspots there is nothing theoretical about these talks. Not when Jüri Ratas et Ana Brnabic, the prime ministers of Estonia and Serbia, are discussing Russia, or Mehmet Simsek, Turkey’s deputy PM, is talking about Iran.
The clearest indication that some sort of US-led conflict is on the cards is the presence of the Pentagon’s top war-gamer, James H Baker. He is an expert in military trends, and no trend is more trendy in the world of battle strategy than artificial intelligence. Bilderberg is devoting a whole session to AI this year – and has invited military theorist Michael C Horowitz, who has written extensively on its likely impact on the future of war.
Horowitz sees AI as “the ultimate enabler”. In an article published just a few weeks ago in the Texas National Security Review, he quotes Putin’s remark from 2017: “Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia, but for all humankind. Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.”
Horowitz says “China, Russia, and others are investing significantly in AI to increase their relative military capabilities”, because it offers “the ability to disrupt US military superiority”. Global military domination is suddenly up for grabs – which brings us to the most intriguing item on this year’s Bilderberg agenda: “US world leadership”.
Bilderberg’s most eminent geopolitical sage, Henry Kissinger, will growl this ominous phrase with ancient delight. He has been clanging the funeral bell of American world leadership for decades. Back in 2005 he wrote about how the rise of China would bring about “a substantial reordering of the international system”.
The White House is clearly concerned: sending to Bilderberg the National Security Council’s director for China, Matthew Turpin. Not that this “gravity shift” to the east is something Turpin could talk about in earshot of Trump.
But here’s the thing: this tectonic reshaping of power, in which “the centre of gravity of world affairs” moves from America to China, is a pre-AI concept. Sundar Pichai, the chief executive of Google recently described AI as more significant for humanity than “electricity or fire”. What this “all-encompassing revolution” means for traditional power structures is the possibility of utter transformation. It is not just that world leadership will be passed from the US to China like a baton. It is that the whole structure of world leadership might just melt away, or take a form that no one, not even Kissinger, could foresee.
What this means for Bilderberg is that the system of transatlantic influence and opinion-shaping that the group has spent more than six decades refining might vanish overnight. All the diplomatic machinations of Józef Retinger and Étienne Davignon, all the Rockefeller, Agnelli and Wallenberg power, rendered irrelevant by the disruption of AI.
Weaponized Drone Swarms Employ Cutting-Edge AI-Technology
Little wonder that Bilderberg, in this state of existential angst, is trying desperately to keep up with the latest tech developments: this year discussing “quantum computing” in a session led by Hartmut Neven, the director of Google’s Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab. The Turin guest list is littered with folk from Google. AI expert Demis Hassabis, who runs Google’s DeepMind project, is already a conference regular. Bilderberg knows that the future lies in hi-tech, so it is grabbing Google with both hands.
In the meantime, having a few proxy wars with Russia is a pleasant way to pass the time. Especially if you run a giant arms company, as several at Bilderberg do. Marcus Wallenberg is chairman of Saab, which makes fighter jets. Giampiero Massolo is chairman of Fincantieri, which makes frigates. And Thomas Enders is chief of Airbus, the seventh biggest arms company in the world. Skirmishes in Estonia would be good for business, if not for Estonia.
Still, the biggest ethical question faced by the summit is not whether to milk the madness of war for profit. Bombing and rebuilding countries, missiles and debt, that’s all fine: that’s just how neoliberalism works. What’s tougher to justify, within a democratic framework, is the practical process whereby conflicts are being debated, behind closed doors, by top policymakers in concert with billionaire industrialists and private sector profiteers. Mark Rutte, the prime minister of the Netherlands, discussing global flashpoints in luxurious privacy with Ben van Beurden, the CEO of Royal Dutch Shell and José Manuel Barroso, the chairman of Goldman Sachs International. It’s horrible optics!
Sir John Sawers, ex-head of the UK Secret Intelligence Service and chairman of Macro Advisory Partners, discusses Russia, Syria, Donald Trump and the issue of free trade.
At Bilderberg, you’ve got the secretary general of Nato discussing Russia with financiers whose job it is to turn knowledge into dollars. Bilderberg member Sir John Sawers used to run MI6. Now he runs Macro Advisory Partners, helping his clients to navigate “a volatile and fragmenting global landscape” while “maximising opportunity and minimising risk”. He does the same for BP, as a member of its board of directors.
This is what Kissinger has been doing for decades through Kissinger Associates: leveraging information for money. This isn’t how representative democracy is meant to work. It’s how Wall Street works. It’s the geopolitical version of insider dealing: private access to non-public information.
What the politicians at Bilderberg ought to realise, when they take a break from brainstorming war to enjoy the buffet, is that they are the buffet. There’s not much dignity in undermining democracy. But there is a huge pile of money, and for many people that’s enough.
Bilderberg 2018 – The list of Participants
VAT – Parolin, H.E. Pietro – Cardinal and Secretary of State (the Vatican is, above all, a political organization)
INT – Azoulay, Audrey – Director-General, UNESCO
INT – Brende, Børge – President, World Economic Forum
INT – Ischinger, Wolfgang – Chairman, Munich Security Conference
INT – Oettinger, Günther H. – Commissioner for Budget & Human Resources, European Commission
INT – Stoltenberg, Jens – Secretary General, NATO
AUT – Ecker, Andrea – Secretary General, Office Federal President of Austria
AUT – Rendi-Wagner, Pamela – MP
AUT – Scholten, Rudolf – President, Bruno Kreisky Forum for International Dialogue
AUT – Zeiler, Gerhard – President, Turner International
BEL – Berx, Cathy – Governor, Province of Antwerp
BEL – Leysen, Thomas – Chairman, KBC Group
BEL – Michel, Charles – Prime Minister
CAN – Anglade, Dominique – Deputy Premier of Quebec; Minister of Economy, Science and Innovation
CAN – Champagne, François-Philippe – Minister of International Trade
CAN – Pichette, Patrick – General Partner, iNovia Capital
CAN – Sabia, Michael – President and CEO, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec
CHE – Beerli, Christine – Former Vice-President, International Committee of the Red Cross
CHE – Kudelski, André – Chairman and CEO, Kudelski Group
CHE – Schneider-Ammann, Johann N. – Federal Councillor
DEU – Achleitner, Paul M. – Chairman Supervisory Board, Deutsche Bank AG; Treasurer, Foundation Bilderberg Meetings
DEU – Döpfner, Mathias – Chairman and CEO, Axel Springer SE
DEU – Enders, Thomas – CEO, Airbus SE
DEU – Köcher, Renate – Managing Director, Allensbach Institute for Public Opinion Research
DEU – Leyen, Ursula von der – Federal Minster of Defence
DNK – Hedegaard, Connie – Chair, KR Foundation; Former European Commissioner
DNK – Topsøe, Jakob Haldor – Chairman, Haldor Topsøe Holding A/S
ESP – Botín, Ana P. – Group Executive Chairman, Banco Santander
ESP – Cebrián, Juan Luis – Executive Chairman, El País
ESP – Rivera Díaz, Albert – President, Ciudadanos Party
ESP – Sáenz de Santamaría, Soraya – Deputy Prime Minister
EST – Ratas, Jüri – Prime Minister
FIN – Herlin, Antti – Chairman, KONE Corporation
FIN – Lepomäki, Elina – MP, National Coalition Party
FIN – Wahlroos, Björn – Chairman, Sampo Group, Nordea Bank, UPM-Kymmene Corporation
FRA – Barbizet, Patricia – President, Temaris & Associés
FRA – Blanquer, Jean-Michel – Minister of National Education, Youth and Community Life
FRA – Bouverot, Anne – Board Member; Former CEO, Morpho
FRA – Castries, Henri de – Chairman, Institut Montaigne; Chairman, Steering Committee Bilderberg Meetings
FRA – Cazeneuve, Bernard – Partner, August Debouzy; Former Prime Minister
FRA – Émié, Bernard – Director General, Ministry of the Armed Forces
FRA – Patino, Bruno – Chief Content Officer, Arte France TV
FRA – Pouyanné, Patrick – Chairman and CEO, Total S.A.
GBR – Agius, Marcus – Chairman, PA Consulting Group
GBR – Carney, Mark J. – Governor, Bank of England
GBR – Gilvary, Brian – Group CFO, BP plc
GBR – Hassabis, Demis – Co-Founder and CEO, DeepMind
GBR – Hodgson, Christine – Chairman, Capgemini UK plc
GBR – Minton Beddoes, Zanny – Editor-in-Chief, The Economist
GBR – O’Neill, Onora – Emeritus Honorary Professor in Philosophy, University of Cambridge
GBR – Osborne, George – Editor, London Evening Standard
GBR – Rudd, Amber – MP; Former Secretary of State, Home Department
GBR – Sawers, John – Chairman and Partner, Macro Advisory Partners
GBR – Woods, Ngaire – Dean, Blavatnik School of Government, Oxford University
GRC – Mitsotakis, Kyriakos – President, New Democracy Party
GRC – Papalexopoulos, Dimitri – CEO, Titan Cement Company S.A.
IRL – Brennan, Eamonn – Director General, Eurocontrol
IRL – Donohoe, Paschal – Minister for Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform
IRL – O’Leary, Michael – CEO, Ryanair D.A.C.
ITA – Alesina, Alberto – Nathaniel Ropes Professor of Economics, Harvard University
ITA – Caracciolo, Lucio – Editor-in-Chief, Limes
ITA – Cattaneo, Elena – Director, Laboratory of Stem Cell Biology, University of Milan
ITA – Colao, Vittorio – CEO, Vodafone Group
ITA – Elkann, John – Chairman, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
ITA – Gruber, Lilli – Editor-in-Chief and Anchor “Otto e mezzo”, La7 TV
ITA – Massolo, Giampiero – Chairman, Fincantieri Spa.; President, ISPI
ITA – Mazzucato, Mariana – Professor in the Economics of Innovation and Public Value, University College London
ITA – Rossi, Salvatore – Senior Deputy Governor, Bank of Italy
LVA – Rubesa, Baiba A. – CEO, RB Rail AS
NLD – Beurden, Ben van – CEO, Royal Dutch Shell plc
NLD – Halberstadt, Victor – Professor of Economics, Leiden University; Chairman Foundation Bilderberg Meetings
NLD – Kaag, Sigrid – Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation
NLD – Knot, Klaas H.W. – President, De Nederlandsche Bank
NLD – Rutte, Mark – Prime Minister
NOR – Brandtzæg, Svein Richard – President and CEO, Norsk Hydro ASA
NOR – Helgesen, Vidar – Ambassador for the Ocean
NOR – Skartveit, Hanne – Political Editor, Verdens Gang
POL – Applebaum, Anne – Columnist, Washington Post; Professor of Practice, London School of Economics
POL – Hajdarowicz, Greg – Founder and President, Gremi International Sarl
POL – Sikorski, Radoslaw – Senior Fellow, Harvard University; Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Poland
PRT – Amorim, Paula – Chairman, Américo Amorim Group
PRT – Barroso, José M. Durão – Chairman, Goldman Sachs International; Former President, European Commission
PRT – Mota, Isabel – President, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation
SRB – Brnabic, Ana – Prime Minister
SWE – Kragic, Danica – Professor, School of Computer Science and Communication, KTH
SWE – Rankka, Maria – CEO, Stockholm Chamber of Commerce
SWE – Wallenberg, Marcus – Chairman, Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken AB
TUR – Dagdeviren, Canan – Assistant Professor, MIT Media Lab
TUR – Koç, Ömer M. – Chairman, Koç Holding A.S.
TUR – Özkan, Behlül – Associate Professor in International Relations, Marmara University
TUR – Simsek, Mehmet – Deputy Prime Minister
TUR – Yetkin, Murat – Editor-in-chief, Hürriyet Daily News
USA – Altman, Roger C. – Founder and Senior Chairman, Evercore
USA – Baker, James H. – Director, Office of Net Assessment, Office of the Secretary of Defense
USA – Burns, William J. – President, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
USA – Burwell, Sylvia M. – President, American University
USA – Cohen, Jared – Founder and CEO, Jigsaw at Alphabet Inc.
USA – Cook, Charles – Political Analyst, The Cook Political Report
USA – Fallows, James – Writer and Journalist
USA – Ferguson, Jr., Roger W. – President and CEO, TIAA
USA – Ferguson, Niall – Milbank Family Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University
USA – Fischer, Stanley – Former Vice-Chairman, Federal Reserve; Former Governor, Bank of Israel
USA – Goldstein, Rebecca – Visiting Professor, New York University
USA – Hickenlooper, John – Governor of Colorado
USA – Hobson, Mellody – President, Ariel Investments LLC
USA – Hoffman, Reid – Co-Founder, LinkedIn; Partner, Greylock Partners
USA – Horowitz, Michael C. – Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania
USA – Hwang, Tim – Director, Harvard-MIT Ethics and Governance of AI Initiative
USA – Jacobs, Kenneth M. – Chairman and CEO, Lazard
USA – Karp, Alex – CEO, Palantir Technologies
USA – Kissinger, Henry A. – Chairman, Kissinger Associates Inc.
USA – Kleinfeld, Klaus – CEO, NEOM
USA – Kotkin, Stephen – Professor in History and International Affairs, Princeton University
USA – Kravis, Henry R. – Co-Chairman and Co-CEO, KKR
USA – Kravis, Marie-Josée – Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute; President, American Friends of Bilderberg
USA – Makan, Divesh – CEO, ICONIQ Capital
USA – Mead, Walter Russell – Distinguished Fellow, Hudson Institute
USA – Micklethwait, John – Editor-in-Chief, Bloomberg LP
USA – Moyo, Dambisa F. – Global Economist and Author
USA – Mundie, Craig J. – President, Mundie & Associates
USA – Neven, Hartmut – Director of Engineering, Google Inc.
USA – Noonan, Peggy – Author and Columnist, The Wall Street Journal
USA – Petraeus, David H. – Chairman, KKR Global Institute
USA – Pring, Benjamin – Co-Founder and Managing Director, Center for the Future of Work
USA – Rubin, Robert E. – Co-Chairman Emeritus, Council on Foreign Relations; Former Treasury Secretary
USA – Sadjadpour, Karim – Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
USA – Schadlow, Nadia – Former Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategy
USA – Summers, Lawrence H. – Charles W. Eliot University Professor, Harvard University
USA – Thiel, Peter – President, Thiel Capital
USA – Turpin, Matthew – Director for China, National Security Council