By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS. 18 July 2023 (IDN) — As the United Nations continues to debate the positive and negative effects of artificial intelligence (AI), Secretary-General António Guterres laid down the two extremes: the potential benefits of AI to the world economy, running into trillions of dollars, and the devastation it could cause humanity—if it is not regulated.
Addressing the Security Council 18 July, Guterres quoted the finance industry estimating that AI could contribute between $10 and $15 trillion US dollars to the global economy by 2030.
Almost every government, large company and organization in the world is working on an AI strategy, he said.
But even its own designers, he pointed out, have no idea where their stunning technological breakthrough may lead. It is clear that AI will have an impact on every area of our lives—including the three pillars of the United Nations.
“It has the potential to turbocharge global development, from monitoring the climate crisis to breakthroughs in medical research. It offers new potential to realize human rights, particularly to health and education.”
But he quoted the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk of Austria expressing alarm over evidence that AI can amplify bias, reinforce discrimination, and enable new levels of authoritarian surveillance.
In his most severe warning, Guterres said: ”Let’s be clear: The malicious use of AI systems for terrorist, criminal or state purposes could cause horrific levels of death and destruction, widespread trauma, and deep psychological damage on an unimaginable scale“.
AI-enabled cyberattacks are already targeting critical infrastructure and our own peacekeeping and humanitarian operations, causing great human suffering, he complained.
The technical and financial barriers to access are low including for criminals and terrorists. Both military and non-military applications of AI could have very serious consequences for global peace and security, Guterres warned.
The advent of generative AI could be a defining moment for disinformation and hate speech—undermining truth, facts, and safety; adding a new dimension to the manipulation of human behaviour; and contributing to polarization and instability on a vast scale, he declared.
Citing a report from the Center for AI Safety, the New York Times reported last month that a group of over 350 AI industry leaders warned that artificial intelligence poses a growing new danger to humanity—and should be considered a “societal risk on a par with pandemics and nuclear wars”.
In a statement in its website, OPENAI founders Greg Brockman and Ilya Sutskever, along with chief executive Sam Altman, said that to regulate the risks of AI systems, there should be “an international watchdog, similar to the International Atomic Energy Agency (a Vienna-based UN agency) that promotes the peaceful uses of nuclear energy”.
Responding to calls from some Member States for such a UN body, Guterres proposed the creation of a new United Nations entity to support collective efforts to govern this extraordinary technology, inspired by such models as the International Atomic Energy Agency, the International Civil Aviation Organization, or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The overarching goal of this body would be to support countries to maximize the benefits of AI for good, to mitigate existing and potential risks, and to establish and administer internationally agreed mechanisms of monitoring and governance.
“Let’s be honest: There is a huge skills gap around AI in governments and other administrative and security structures that must be addressed at the national and global levels.”
A new UN entity, Guterres pointed out, would gather expertise and put it at the disposal of the international community. And it could support collaboration on the research and development of AI tools to accelerate sustainable development.
“As a first step, I am convening a multistakeholder High-Level Advisory Body for Artificial Intelligence that will report back on the options for global AI governance, by the end of this year. My upcoming Policy Brief on A New Agenda for Peace will also make recommendations on AI governance to Member States:
Asked about the inherent dangers of artificial intelligence, AI CHATBOT said: “Yes, concerns about the potential negative impacts of artificial intelligence (AI) on human rights have been raised by various individuals and organizations, including the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights”.
The use of AI technology has the potential to exacerbate bias, discrimination, and surveillance if not carefully developed and regulated, CHATBOT admitted.
One of the main concerns is that AI algorithms can perpetuate and amplify existing biases present in the data used for training. If the training data reflects societal biases, such as racial or gender biases, the AI system may learn and perpetuate these biases, leading to discriminatory outcomes in various domains like criminal justice, hiring processes, or access to services.
“Moreover, AI can be employed in surveillance systems to monitor individuals’ activities, raising concerns about privacy and freedom of expression. When combined with other technologies like facial recognition, AI-powered surveillance systems have the potential to enable unprecedented levels of monitoring and control, particularly in authoritarian contexts”.
Recognizing these challenges, CHATBOT said there is a growing consensus that the development and deployment of AI must be guided by ethical principles, human rights standards, and robust regulatory frameworks. Efforts are being made to develop responsible AI practices, including transparency, accountability, fairness, and non-discrimination.
“The UN and other international bodies have been actively discussing the ethical and human rights implications of AI and are working on establishing guidelines and standards to ensure that AI technologies are developed and used in a manner consistent with human rights principles”.
“It is crucial for governments, companies, and civil society to collaborate in order to address these concerns and strike a balance between harnessing the potential benefits of AI while mitigating its risks to human rights”.
CHATBOT: The proposal to create a new United Nations entity to support collective efforts in governing an extraordinary technology is an interesting concept. While I, as an AI language model, do not have access to real-time information or updates on UN activities beyond my September 2021 knowledge cutoff, I can provide you with some general insights.
Drawing inspiration from successful models such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggests that the UN is considering a specialized agency or panel to address the governance of this technology.
These existing models can offer potential frameworks for how this new UN entity might function. For instance, the IAEA focuses on regulating the peaceful use of nuclear energy and preventing nuclear proliferation. The ICAO is responsible for setting international aviation standards and regulations. The IPCC, on the other hand, assesses and provides scientific advice on climate change.
If a new UN entity were to be established, it would likely have a similar mandate to oversee and regulate the specific technology in question. Its main objectives might include:
- Policy Development: The entity would work on formulating policies and guidelines to govern the technology, ensuring its ethical use, and addressing potential risks and challenges.
- Standardization and Regulation: It would establish international standards, protocols, and regulations to ensure the safe and responsible development, deployment, and use of the technology across different countries and regions.
- Research and Assessment: The entity might conduct research, gather scientific data, and collaborate with experts to assess the potential impacts of the technology on various aspects of society, including social, economic, and environmental factors.
- Capacity Building and Assistance: It could provide technical assistance and capacity-building support to member states, particularly to those that may require assistance in understanding, implementing, and regulating the technology.
- Collaboration and Coordination: The entity would foster international collaboration, cooperation, and coordination among member states, stakeholders, and relevant organizations to address global challenges associated with the technology.
It’s important to note that the actual structure and functions of such a UN entity would depend on the specific technology in question and the consensus among member states. The proposal would undergo thorough discussions, negotiations, and decision-making processes within the United Nations system before any concrete steps are taken.
For the most accurate and up-to-date information on the status of this proposal or any developments in the United Nations, I recommend referring to official UN sources or news outlets. [IDN-InDepthNews]
Image: Neural net completion for “artificial intelligence”, as done by DALL-E mini hosted on HuggingFace, 4 June 2022 (code under Apache 2.0 license). Upscaled with Real-ESRGAN “Anime” upscaling version (under [https://github.com/xinntao/Real-ESRGAN/blob/master/LICENSE
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