Artificial intelligence was the dominant topic at the United Nations Security Council this week.
In his opening remarks at the session, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, “AI will have an impact on every area of our lives” and advocated for the creation of a “new United Nations entity to support collective efforts to govern this extraordinary technology.”
Guterres said “the need for global standards and approaches makes the United Nations the ideal place for this to happen” and urged a joining of forces to “build trust for peace and security.”
“We need a race to develop AI for good,” Guterres said. “And that is a race that is possible and achievable.”
In his briefing, to the council, Guterres said the debate was an opportunity to consider the impact of artificial intelligence on peace and security “where it is already raising political, legal, ethical and humanitarian concerns.”
He also stated that while governments, large companies and organizations around the world are working on an AI strategy, “even its own designers have no idea where their stunning technological breakthrough may lead.”
Guterres urged the Security Council “to approach this technology with a sense of urgency, a global lens and a learner’s mindset, because what we have seen is just the beginning.”
AI for good and evil
The secretary-general’s remarks set the stage for a series of comments and observations by session participants on how artificial intelligence can benefit society in health, education and human rights, while recognizing that, gone unchecked, AI also has the potential to be used for nefarious purposes.
To that point, there was widespread acknowledgment that AI in every iteration of its development needs to be kept in check with specific guidelines, rules and regulations to protect privacy and ensure security without hindering innovation.
“We cannot leave the development of artificial intelligence solely to private sector actors,” said Jack Clark, co-founder of Anthropic, a leading AI company. “The governments of the world must come together, develop state capacity, and make the development of powerful AI systems a shared endeavor across all parts of society, rather than one dictated solely by a small number of firms competing with one another in the marketplace.”
AI as human labor
Yi Zeng, a professor at the Institute of Automation, Chinese Academy of Sciences, shared a similar sentiment.
“AI should never pretend to be human,” he said. “We should use generative AI to assist but never trust them to replace human decision-making.”
The U.K. holds the council’s rotating presidency this month and British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, who chaired the session, called for international cooperation to manage the global implications of artificial intelligence. He said that “global cooperation will be vital to ensure AI technologies and the rules governing their use are developed responsibly in a way that benefits society.”
Cleverly noted how far the world has come “since the early development of artificial intelligence by pioneers like Alan Turing and Christopher Strachey.”
“This technology has advanced with ever greater speed, yet the biggest AI-induced transformations are still to come,” he said.
Making AI inclusive
“AI development is now outpacing at breakneck speed, and governments are unable to keep up,” said Omran Sharaf, assistant minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation for advanced science and technology, in the United Arab Emirates.
“It is time to be optimistic realists when it comes to AI” and to “harness the opportunities it offers,” he said.
Among the proposals he suggested was addressing real-world biases that AI could double down on.
“Decades of progress on the fight against discrimination, especially gender discrimination towards women and girls, as well as against persons with disabilities, will be undermined if we do not ensure an AI that is inclusive,” Sharaf said.
AI as double-edged sword
Zhang Jun, China’s permanent representative to the U.N., lauded the empowering role of AI in scientific research, health care and autonomous driving.
But he also acknowledged how it is raising concerns in areas such as data privacy, spreading false information, exacerbating social inequality, and its potential misuse or abuse by terrorists or extremist forces, “which will pose a significant threat to international peace and security.”
“Whether AI is used for good or evil depends on how mankind utilizes it, regulates it and how we balance scientific development with security,” he said.
U.S. envoy Jeffrey DeLaurentis said artificial intelligence offers great promise in addressing global challenges such as food security, education and medicine. He added, however, that AI also has the potential “to compound threats and intensify conflicts, including by spreading mis- and disinformation, amplifying bias and inequality, enhancing malicious cyber operations, and exacerbating human rights abuses.”
“We, therefore, welcome this discussion to understand how the council can find the right balance between maximizing AI’s benefits while mitigating its risks,” he said.
Britain’s Cleverly noted that since no country will be untouched by AI, “we must involve and engage the widest coalition of international actors from all sectors.”
VOA’s Margaret Besheer contributed to this story.