Guterres calls for artificial intelligence that bridges gaps instead of digging them

At the Security Council on Tuesday, the UN Secretary-General underlined the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) to accelerate human development, while warning against the malicious use of this new technology.

 António Guterres warned that if artificial intelligence were to become primarily a weapon for launching cyber attacks, generating deepfakes, or spreading disinformation and hate speech, this would have very serious consequences for global peace and security.

The UN chief urged the Council to approach this technology "with a sense of urgency, a global vision and a learning mindset".

The risks of malicious use

"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," Guterres stressed.

"Just look at social media. Tools and platforms designed to strengthen human ties are now being used to undermine elections, spread conspiracy theories and incite hatred and violence", he pointed out.

"The malfunctioning of AI systems is another major cause for concern. And the interaction between AI and nuclear weapons, biotechnology, neurotechnology and robotics is very alarming", added the UN chief.

Mr Guterres nevertheless highlighted the use of AI in the service of peace and security, particularly by the United Nations, including to identify patterns of violence or monitor ceasefires, "thus helping to strengthen our peacekeeping, mediation and humanitarian aid efforts".

Serving the common good

Referring to the debate on the governance of AI, Mr Guterres stressed the need for a universal approach, citing similar past experiences under the aegis of the UN.

"The international community has a long history of responding to new technologies that could destabilise our societies and economies. We have joined forces within the UN to establish new international rules, sign new treaties and create new global bodies", the UN Secretary General told the Fifteen.

He cited various existing examples related to AI, including the Guiding Principles on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems; the recommendations on the ethics of artificial intelligence adopted by UNESCO in 2021; the recommendations on how Member States can combat the potential use of AI for terrorist purposes from the UN Counter-Terrorism Office ; and the AI for Good Summit held in Geneva last month, which brought together experts, the private sector, UN agencies and governments to ensure that this revolutionary technology serves the common good.

Creating a new UN entity

The UN chief said that governance issues will be complex in a number of ways, due to the availability to the general public of some powerful artificial intelligence models.

Also, "unlike nuclear materials and chemical and biological agents, AI tools can be shipped anywhere in the world leaving very little trace", he pointed out, noting also the leading role played by the private sector in the AI field.

Guterres highlighted the AI skills gap within governments and other bureaucracies, which needs to be addressed at national and global levels.

"That is why I welcome the calls by some Member States for the creation of a new United Nations entity to support collective efforts to govern this extraordinary technology, drawing on models such as the International Atomic Energy Agency, the International Civil Aviation Organisation and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change," said the UN chief.

In his view, a new UN entity would "pool expertise and make it available to the international community" and could also "support collaboration on research and development of artificial intelligence tools to accelerate sustainable development".

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, addresses the United Nations Security Council on the threat to international peace and security posed by artificial intelligence.

Photo ONU/Eskinder Debebe The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, addresses the UN Security Council on the threat posed by artificial intelligence to international peace and security.

Recommendations on governance

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 briefing note on the New Agenda for Peace is also expected to make recommendations to Member States on the governance of AI.

In particular, the document calls for the conclusion, by 2026, of negotiations on a legally binding instrument to prohibit lethal autonomous weapons systems that operate without human control or supervision and cannot be used in compliance with international humanitarian law.

Demonstrating leadership

The Secretary-General called on the Security Council, which is responsible for international peace and security, to "show leadership on AI" and to lead the way towards common measures on transparency, accountability and oversight.

"We must work together so that AI bridges social, digital and economic divides, not so that it drives us apart. I invite you to join forces and build trust for peace and security", concluded Mr Guterres.

Tuesday's 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.

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