Celebrating Dr. Henry A. Kissinger’s 100th Birthday
Hello, I’m Ylli Bajraktari, CEO of the Special Competitive Studies Project. In this special edition of the 2-2-2, our Chair Eric Schmidt reflects on Dr. Henry Kissinger in celebration of his 100th birthday. Dr. Kissinger’s efforts in the 1950’s with the Special Studies Project inspire us every day to work on a bipartisan vision to ensure America can compete more effectively in the age of AI. You can also read here Dr. Kissinger’s letter supporting SCSP’s work.
When I invited Dr. Kissinger to speak at Google in 2015, it might have seemed like a strange pairing. After all, he is a statesman of immense stature, having served as the 7th U.S. National Security Advisor and the 56th U.S. Secretary of State during some of the most consequential moments in our history, while I had spent my career in the corporate world on the West Coast developing cutting-edge technology.
Henry Kissinger, left, speaks with Eric Schmidt, right, at Google, 2015.
I had invited him to speak to Google's staff to discuss his latest book, “World Order,” and how to think about current events through the lens of history. The more I spoke with him, the more I learned how long he had been thinking about the role of technology in the safety and security of the United States. How do we respond to these technologies when their adoption into our cultures and norms has no precedent? How does the increasing opacity of intelligence and data affect our ability to understand our adversaries’ capabilities and views? Before coming to Google, Dr. Kissinger considered the company’s influence on information as a “threat to civilization.” Luckily, I had the opportunity to sit down with him and explain how our algorithms worked and the depth of our analysis. Despite our differences in background and experience, we both agreed that AI would have an incredible impact on humanity and that technologists were operating without understanding how their work impacts the present and future.
These conversations led to the decision to write a book to help people understand the societal and philosophical impact and implications of AI. Technology moves too quickly for a technical book to be relevant. Rather, we wanted to begin a conversation about how to balance the opportunities and challenges that AI will bring to our lives. During our discussions, we understood the unavoidable future of a technological revolution. We asked ourselves how its evolution will impact a human’s cognition, perception, and ability to interact, not only with technology but society as well. Our collaboration resulted in "The Age of AI and Our Human Future," a book aimed to ask big questions about the future of AI and the evolving role of this foundational technology in all aspects of human life, ranging from reasoning to how it will shape the international order. We both agreed that AI is changing our very perception of reality, and it is happening faster than our understanding of it. Our goal was to explain the current landscape, foreshadow a future in which our cognitive capabilities are indistinguishable from that of AI’s, and detail a shared vision where technology and diplomacy coexist and complement each other to protect our security while benefiting from the power of these technologies.
Dr. Kissinger at the NSCAI "Strength through Innovation: The Future of A.I. and U.S. National Security” Conference, 2019.
In the late 1950s, Dr. Kissinger served as the executive director of the Special Studies Project (SSP), a bipartisan effort launched by Nelson Rockefeller to define the major problems and opportunities that the United States confronted as it shifted from the aftermath of World War II and faced an ideological competitor striving for nuclear parity.
Henry Kissinger, left, and Nelson Rockefeller, right, 1975. Rockefeller Archive Center.
The group – drawn from industry, academia, and government – believed America needed a forward-looking response to the era’s many upheavals. “A nation which does not shape events through its own sense of purpose,” they wrote, “eventually will be engulfed in events shaped by others.” Their final product, “Prospect for America,” sold over 400,000 copies, a national bestseller at the time, and inspired policies that would shape American foreign policy and bolster military advantage for the next three presidential administrations. In the nuclear age, the concept of deterrence and retaliation was foundational for national strategy. Unfortunately, this new era of AI makes control elusive. We need a new strategy that can keep pace with the rapidly evolving technological battleground, one America does not currently possess. Inspired by this, I launched SCSP in 2021, a new effort with a similar goal: addressing the critical issues as artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies reshape our national security, economy, and society. We have been honored to have received the benefit of Dr. Kissinger’s support and guidance as we have continued his legacy.
Henry Kissinger, left, speaks with Ylli Bajraktari, right, at the SCSP Global Emerging Technology Summit, 2022.
As new technologies like large language models (LLMs) dominate headlines, we have continued to collaborate. Generative AI presents a new level of philosophical and practical questions, opening up new avenues for innovation but also creating a gap between “knowledge” and “information.” New opportunities and challenges are presenting themselves in ways we never could have dreamed of. The looming truth of a world in which science fiction and reality are beginning to merge have only emphasized the need to reconstruct the relationship between humans and technology. It is crucial that we continue these conversations.
Dr. Kissinger's 100 years are a testament to resilience, intelligence, and relentless curiosity. His life’s work, from the Cold War to the dawn of artificial intelligence, has had a profound impact on the world, bridging the gap between societal implications and technical innovation. I am grateful that Dr. Kissinger agreed to speak at Google eight years ago and for his friendship in the years since.
Thank you for your inspirational service to our country and your efforts to ensure a world where technology is developed with democratic ideals and leaves a positive, lasting impact on our society.
Happy birthday, Henry!