Image credit: UN - Photo: 2023

UN Plans a Code of Conduct to Monitor AI & Prevent Abuses

By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, 13 June 2023 (IDN) — The widespread proliferation of artificial intelligence (AI)—and its CHATBOT search engine—has prompted the United Nations to propose a “set of guardrails” to prevent abuses and disinformation.

The motive is to help governments with guidelines that “promote facts, while exposing conspiracies and lies, and safeguarding freedom of expression and information”.

At a press briefing June 12, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the UN is developing “a Code of Conduct for Information Integrity on Digital Platforms”—ahead of the UN Summit of the Future scheduled to take place in September 2024.

“The Code of Conduct will be a set of principles that we hope governments, digital platforms and other stakeholders will implement voluntarily,” he told reporters.

The proposals in this policy brief, in preparation for the Code, include:

  1. A commitment by Governments, tech companies and other stakeholders to refrain from using, supporting, or amplifying disinformation and hate speech for any purpose.
  2. A pledge by Governments to guarantee a free, viable, independent, and plural media landscape, with strong protections for journalists.
  3. The consistent application of policies and resources by digital platforms around the world, to eliminate double standards that allow hate speech and disinformation to flourish in some languages and countries, while they are prevented more effectively in others.
  4. And agreed protocols for a rapid response by governments and digital platforms when the stakes are highest—in times of conflict and high social tensions.
  5. Plus, a commitment from digital platforms to make sure all products take account of safety, privacy and transparency.

Citing a report from the Center for AI Safety, the New York Times reported May 31 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”.

“We must take those warnings seriously. Our proposed Global Digital Compact, New Agenda for Peace, and Accord on the global governance of AI, will offer multilateral solutions based on human rights,” Guterres said.

“But the advent of generative AI must not distract us from the damage digital technology is already doing to our world. The proliferation of hate and lies in the digital space is causing grave global harm—now. It is fueling conflict, death and destruction—now. It is threatening democracy and human rights—now. It is undermining public health and climate action—now,” he warned.

Responding to questions from reporters, Guterres said there are many initiatives currently taking place on AI.

“We have in the European Union (EU) not only an act but also a code of conduct. This is a very important initiative, even if for the European space. We have other governments that have started to look into forms of regulation”.

“But there is a conscience that regulation is not easy, because things are moving very quickly. And so, we need to find other mechanisms, including multi-stakeholder approaches, to define guardrails, to define red lines and at the same time to exchange best practices and to make sure that the business models are put into question,” he added.

“And there is a central aspect: Of course, these platforms must make money, but the problem is that the present business model prioritizes engagement in relation to privacy, truth, and the human rights of people.”

He singled out a study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that has demonstrated that false information tends to multiply six times more than true information on one of the platforms.

“I’m not going to quote which platform it is, but the study was done in relation to one of the platforms. So, it is important that platforms understand that having naturally a profitable activity, that profitable activity cannot create massive profits at the expense of a model of engagement that goes before any other consideration: human rights, privacy, safety.”

So, everybody needs to be engaged, he argued.

“And this code of conduct that we hope will be published in the movement towards the Summit of the Future is of course not a solution alone in itself, but it will be global, not in relation to any specific part of the world, and it will be, as it is on a voluntary basis, I hope a very strong instrument in order to allow all those interested to commit to what needs to be done in order to guarantee, or at least to seriously promote, information integrity on digital platforms”, he declared.

Asked if the UN plans to convene a summit on AI when world leaders are in town in September 2023, Guterres said: “Well, we are very committed to do everything possible in this regard.”

“First of all, we will not be competing for summits. There is already an indication of a Member State that has announced its intention to convene a summit on artificial intelligence this year, and we will of course not try to create conditions of competition. We will support that initiative.”

But he did not name or identify that member state.

On the other hand, he said, “we believe that a summit must be preceded by serious work. I am going to appoint, in the next few days, a scientific advisory board that includes a number of experts from outside, including two experts on artificial intelligence and the chief scientists of UN agencies, and namely ITU and UNESCO, that have been very active in this regard.”

Asked whether he would envision this agency—like the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) —for Artificial Intelligence, he said: “This is something that depends on Member States’ will and that only Member States can create it, not the Secretariat of the United Nations”.

“But what I said is that this has been discussed on different platforms. This is something I would see positively. What is the advantage of the IAEA is that it is a very solid, knowledge-based institution and at the same time, even if limited, it has some regulatory functions. So, I believe this is a model that could be very interesting,” he declared.

Asked when he expected the Code of Conduct to go into effect, Guterres said: “We have presented the set of principles. Based on these set of principles, we will conduct a number of important consultations with governments, with platforms, with scientists, with civil society”.

And it’s my intention, he said, to issue the Code of Conduct after all these consultations before the Summit of the Future next year.

“The Code of Conduct is not something to be approved by the General Assembly. It is something that will be our contribution and we hope, of course, that that contribution can be useful for all parties: for governments, for platforms, for civil society, for scientists, and for those that advertise on platforms and have a very important role to play,” he noted. [IDN-InDepthNews]

Image credit: UN

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