UN tech official optimistic but concerned about AI impacting ‘humaneness’.


The United Nations (U.N.) is emphasizing its unique contributions to the regulation of artificial intelligence (AI). According to U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Satya N. Gill, the organization brings inclusiveness, legitimacy, and authority to the table. The U.N. aims to involve more countries and promote inclusive and peaceful uses of technology. It also has the authority to link AI commitments with human rights treaties, creating compliance pressure for governments. However, the U.N. faces challenges in facilitating meaningful discussions and involving private sector, civil society, and technology community stakeholders. Consensus-building can be time-consuming, and technological advancements require the U.N. to adopt a more agile approach.

Governments have the ability to influence the trajectory of AI in numerous ways. Gill states that besides regulating AI misuse and upholding democracy and the rule of law, governments should also promote a diverse and inclusive innovation ecosystem to prevent economic power concentration and ensure equal access to opportunities. While AI presents the potential to bridge digital divides and close inequalities, the concern remains that some countries may benefit while others are left behind. Gill emphasizes the need for nuanced discussions beyond the binary of “promise and peril.” Access to opportunity and empowerment are crucial considerations.

Regarding the global conversation on regulating AI, Gill highlights the importance of convergence and common understanding. This encompasses identifying and understanding risks, developing effective governance tools, establishing an agile and distributed governance model, and making political decisions sustainable and trusted by the public. Gill’s enthusiasm lies in the potential of AI to accelerate progress on Sustainable Development Goals in crucial areas like health, agriculture, food security, education, and the green transition. However, he also expresses concern about AI being utilized in ways that deceive society and concentrate power. Gill emphasizes the importance of preserving diversity, competition, and openness to maintain democracy.

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