University of South Florida St. Petersburg



Global affairs conference explored how artificial intelligence is changing the world

Panel discussion during the St. Pete Conference on World Affairs

Panel discussion during St. Petersburg Conference on World Affairs 2023

By Sarah Sell, University Communications and Marketing

Distinguished speakers from around the world discussed issues related to international relations, business, culture and climate change through the lens of artificial intelligence at the largest conference on global affairs in the Tampa Bay region.

The St. Petersburg Conference on World Affairs, in partnership with USF's Global and National Security Institute, brought together diplomats, lawyers, journalists, business leaders and thousands of community members to provide a global and local perspective on the world's biggest challenges.

The hybrid conference took place at USF St. Petersburg from February 6-8. This year's theme, "Rethinking," explored how artificial intelligence (AI) is changing the world and its impacts from national security and risk management to art and disseminating information. Other topics included how U.S. politics is viewed by foreign observers, the relevancy of monarchies, erosion of the rule of law and democracy and civility.

"In a rapidly changing world, we still face persistent challenges with international conflict, rising nationalism and xenophobia, and erosion of the rule of law. The conference will help us reimagine solutions to these challenges," said Thomas Smith, vice provost of Academic Affairs at USF St. Petersburg.

Smith co-founded the conference in 2013 with former U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Douglas McElhaney. Now in its 12th year, the conference has grown in size and scope, attracting accomplished professionals and scholars who have lived and worked abroad and overseen critical decisions around the world.

"It's not like reading articles in the newspapers or listening to the news; those stories are edited for various audiences. It's talking to the people who are collecting the information and analyzing and distributing it in some way,” said Willi Rudowsky, the St. Petersburg Conference on World Affairs board president. "It gives the citizens of St. Petersburg and the Tampa Bay area a sense of where we stand in the world and how it's affecting us."

The three-day event kicked off with a keynote address from former U.S. Ambassador to Panama, Barbara J. Stephenson. During her three decades as a diplomat, Stephenson served in the war-torn Balkans, Northern Ireland and Iraq and has worked closely with Congress, the media and globally engaged strategic partners. She is currently vice provost for global affairs and chief global officer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Others speaking on topics of global significance included:

  • Frank McKenzie, a retired Marine Corps general and former chief of U.S. Central Command, which is responsible for defending and promoting U.S. interests in 20 nations in the Middle East and Central and South Asia. McKenzie is the executive director of USF's Global and National Security Institute and the Florida Center for Cybersecurity.
  • Nicolas Sabouret, a Computer Science professor specializing in AI at University Paris-Saclay, one of the highest-ranked universities in France. Sabouret is an expert in human behavior modeling and simulation. His research combines AI models with theories of human cognition and decision-making from social science.
  • Mark Kramer, the director of the Cold War Studies Project at Harvard University's Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies. He is the author and editor of several books and has written nearly 200 articles on a variety of topics. He has worked extensively in newly opened archives in all the former Warsaw Pact and several Western countries.

The conference wrapped up with a student discussion about hope, anxiety and their vision for the future.  

Attendees in Tampa Bay and around the world still had the option to tune in virtually via the conference's website. In previous years, thousands have tuned in virtually, including attendees from 19 different countries, enhancing the conference's international reach.

For more information about the 2024 St. Petersburg Conference on World Affairs, visit

The Global and National Security Institute will also hold an event that will focus on Artificial Intelligence March 5-7 on the Tampa campus. For more information on the GNSI Tampa Summit visit

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