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How can Nations Leverage AI to Enhance Soft Power?

Brand Finance
01 March 2023
Peggy Liu, Chairperson, Joint US-China Collaboration on Clean Energy (JUCCCE)

With generative AI, everything is about to change everywhere all at once. Nations can choose to jump on board and use AI to compound their Soft Power or ignore it and possibly succumb to narratives shaped by algorithms.

Within the next single-digit years, AI will go from a ‘look wow!’ party trick to a sophisticated, omni-presence. Here are four reasons why Nations should get their AI Soft Power training wheels on now:

  • Digital Diplomacy. AI levels the playing field for developing nations. A tiny startup nation like the sovereign and independent Nation of Hawaii has little or no resources dedicated to becoming more influential on the world stage when their meagre resources are dedicated to survival. But they have much to offer the world in indigenous wisdom and a powerful lineage on which to build a brand. With little effort, Nations can build a strong digital presence by combining human sensibilities with generative AI social media content creation apps.
  • Language Translation. AI levels the playing field for non-English speaking nations. Most English-speaking nations underestimate what an advantage language is for them in a world that is dominated by English. China’s ability to foster greater understanding and collaboration with other countries is severely handicapped because its key influencers do not speak English at all or well enough to emote effectively. Interpreters can soon use AI to effortlessly translate communications and focus their own time on the difficult work of capturing the nuances of cultural bridging.
  • Reduction of Polarisation. AI’s conversational replies can reduce the dominating effect that a few loud angry voices have on the Internet. Shifting perspectives, one social media thread at a time, can help reduce the ‘Us vs Them’ narrative that reductionist media shapes. While ChatGPT today does not have the bandwidth to search the Internet, humans can manually detect negative conversation threads and use AI to generate a reply that makes the poster feel heard and validated while providing them with a more nuanced perspective. The more a nation jumps in with positive conversational micro engagements, the more momentum its Soft Power builds.
  • Cultural Accessibility. AI's ability to create art and music can help Nations reach the hearts of more people. In an environment where ‘foreign’ is feared, generative AI like Dall-E can help onboard a wider range of audiences by creating new pieces of fusion art or music that are inspired by a nation’s cultural traditions but feel familiar and locally appropriate. Soft Power begins when curiosity arises.

Luckily for us, AI still lacks the magic we humans have to mesmerise.

  • Empathy. True influence is the ability to shift the emotional reaction of others. When I started a collaborative effort to create what ultimately became China’s national slogan ‘China Dream’, I travelled the globe to research how societal shifts were made. I was surprised to find out that speaking to people’s hearts, not their heads, was key to rapid societal-scale change. A nation’s positive or negative perception depends on its ability to make people feel loved and safe. AI’s lack of empathy holds it back from sensing nuanced emotional reactions, and responding in a way that creates a compassionate connection.
  • Energetic Sensitivity. Soft Power starts with a nation's power to magnetise people to a certain mood. This mood which I call an ‘energetic fingerprint’ is the beautiful essence of a nation that manifests as a taste of a dish, the beauty of its people, the colour of its soil, the humidity of its air, the cadence of its dances, the tempo of its music, the romance of its streets, the smell of its forests. The ability to emotionally express the most ‘human things’ about our Nations with heightened sensitivity is what creates the magnetism of Soft Power. The ability for Hollywood to entice and transport us into a different world is why America is usually a Soft Power leader. AI is a long way from being able to take these sensations and create a vehicle that will simulate a Nation’s energetic fingerprint.
  • Cultural Bridging. Jumping between cultures and languages without hilarious or offensive misunderstandings is a multi-layered effort that requires a bit of guessing people’s intentions rather than direct translation. Cultural bridging is difficult to teach in the classroom, and impossible to train AI. In one of my TEDx talks “Cultural Bridges - Service Jobs of the 21st Century“ I make the claim that culturally literate people who can build bridges between economic centres will be drivers of economic growth. Cultural bridges are the most valuable hires in developing a nation’s Soft Power.
  • Feeling Momentum. Changing a nation’s ranking on the Global Soft Power Index by Brand Finance requires more than a short-term campaign. It requires building up momentum in an upward spiral of buzz that ultimately shifts perspectives worldwide. In what I term “Tornado Leadership”, I advise countries and companies on micro-tactics that create continual engagement in a form of collaborative drafting. Soft Power requires Tornado Leaders who understand how to sense magnetism, momentum, and resonance in groups. AI’s decision trees will not be able to feel into this anytime soon.

Humans, we are at a crossroads. Do we intentionally invest in and explore how AI can help nations shape their Soft Power? Or do we passively let AI rapidly evolve its own definition of our Nations’ stories?

In the short term, there is a fantastic opportunity for an enterprising startup to create a toolkit of AI apps customised with prompts for nations. In the long term, humans can specialise in what remains our biggest advantage over AI – our senses and hearts.

About the Author

Brand Finance is the world’s leading independent brand valuation and strategy consultancy. Headquartered in the City of London, we are present in over 20 countries.

For almost 30 years we have helped companies and organisations of all types to connect their brands to the bottom line.