United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has highlighted the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) to accelerate human development, while warning against the malicious use of this new technology.
Speaking to the UN Security Council, Guterres warned that if artificial intelligence were to become primarily a weapon to launch cyberattacks, generate deepfakes, or to spread disinformation and hate speech, it would have very serious consequences for global peace and security.
In this regard, he urged the Council to address this technology “with a sense of urgency, a global vision and a learner’s mindset”.
Risks of misuse
“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 profound psychological damage on an unimaginable scale”he said.
And to add: “Just look at social media. Tools and platforms designed to strengthen human connections are now being used to undermine elections, spread conspiracy theories and incite hatred and violence”he argued.
While emphasizing that “malfunctions of AI systems are another major area of concern. And the interplay between AI and nuclear weapons, biotechnology, neurotechnology and robotics is very alarming,” the UN chief, nevertheless highlighted the use of AI in the service of peace and security, in particular by the United Nations, including to identify patterns of violence or monitor ceasefires, “thereby contributing to strengthen our efforts in peacekeeping, mediation and humanitarian aid”.
Serve the common good
Referring to the AI governance debate, Guterres stressed the need for a universal approach, citing similar past experiences under the UN umbrella.
“The international community has a long history of responding to new technologies that can destabilize our societies and economies. We have joined forces in the UN to establish new international rules, sign new treaties and create new global bodies,” pointed out the Secretary General of the UN before the Fifteen.
He cited various existing examples related to AI, including the Guiding Principles on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems; the recommendations on the ethics of artificial intelligence adopted by UNESCO in 2021; recommendations on how member states can counter the potential use of AI for terrorist purposes from the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism, or the “AI for Good” Summit [IA pour le bien]held in Geneva last month and which brought together experts, the private sector, UN agencies and governments, to ensure that this revolutionary technology serves the common good.
Create a new UN entity
The UN chief indicated that governance issues will be complex in various ways, due to the availability of some powerful models of artificial intelligence to the general public.
Also, “unlike nuclear materials and chemical and biological agents, AI tools can be shipped anywhere in the world leaving very little trace,” he noted, also noting the leading role played by the private sector in the field of AI.
Guterres further highlighted the AI skills gap within governments and other bureaucracies that needs to be addressed at national and global levels.
“That is why I welcome calls by some Member States for the creation of a new United Nations entity to support collective efforts to govern this extraordinary technology, drawing inspiration from models such as the International Atomic Energy Agency, the International Civil Aviation Organization or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”he said.
According to him, a new United Nations entity “would bring together the expertise and make it available to the international community” and could also “to support collaboration in the research and development of artificial intelligence tools in order to accelerate sustainable development”.
Guterres announced that he would convene a high-level meeting on AI, which will report on global governance options by the end of the year.
Its forthcoming information note on the new agenda for peace is also expected to provide recommendations on AI governance for member states.
This document calls in particular for the conclusion, by 2026, of negotiations on a legally binding instrument aimed at prohibiting lethal autonomous weapons systems which operate without human control or supervision and which cannot be used in accordance with international humanitarian law.
The Secretary-General called on the Security Council, which is responsible for international peace and security, to “demonstrate leadership in AI” and to lead the way towards common measures of transparency, accountability and control.
“We need to work together for AI to bridge social, digital and economic divides, not drive us apart. I invite you to join forces and build trust for peace and security,” concluded Guterres.
The SC meeting was convened by the United Kingdom, which holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council for the month of July.
This is the first meeting of the UN body responsible for peace and security in the world on the potential threats of artificial intelligence to international peace and security.