United Nations in the Era of AI
Will the multilateral system survive artificial intelligence (AI)?
We are in the middle of a technological upheaval that will transform the way our multilateral system operates and exerts influence. AI may concentrate power over information in the hands of a few, or it may empower the many. Either way, the resulting power distribution will affect trust – trust in national institutions, trust among states, and trust in the rules-based global order.
Though we are only at the beginning of the deployment of AI across our economic, political and social systems, the effects are already inducing profound anxiety for those states or citizens who fear a loss of power.
Increasingly, AI will impact how countries and powerful technology corporations compete and cooperate to set the rules of the game. AI will shape how they administer and govern our societies. These new forms of control raise urgent policy questions for the international community.
There are growing signs of a global AI arms race, with at least four of the five permanent members of the Security Council placing AI at the centre of their current grand strategies. If misused, algorithms and autonomous systems could undermine human rights, democracy, and the rule of law respectively.
We must open a strategic and inclusive discussion about the modalities of global governance in the era of AI and other emerging technologies.
The Centre for Policy Research at United Nations University in New York is an independent think tank within the United Nations system. We combine research excellence with deep knowledge of the multilateral system to generate innovative solutions to current and future global public policy challenges.
Where AI fits into global governance is exactly such a challenge. Spurred on by a mandate given to UNU in the Secretary-General’s Strategy on New Technologies, CPR has created this AI and Global Governance platform as an inclusive space for researchers, policy actors, corporate and thought leaders to explore this public policy challenge. Leading the platform is Eleonore Pauwels, Research Fellow on Emerging Cybertechnologies and a global expert on AI, its ethics, and its convergence with other emerging technologies.
The Platform will bring together world-renowned experts and practitioners in a range of fields intersecting with AI to generate cross-disciplinary discussions on an array of strategic questions including:
For those working in the United Nations context, there are also crucial questions of relevance and impact. What role, if any, is there for the multilateral state-centric system in the governance of AI? What direct and indirect risks does AI pose to the UN’s global mandates on sustainable development, human rights and peace and security? What institutional arrangements and governance frameworks can prevent the misuse of AI systems in ways that compromise human dignity?
At the centre of this inquiry is the question: what is the appropriate role for states, corporations, civil society, international organizations and other global actors in governing AI?
These are not just abstract questions, but rather important ethical crossroads that we are now confronting.
The answers to these ethical challenges will shape how individual agency is governed – by states, corporations, and other global actors – in the AI era. The competing interests that emerge – between different types of entities with governing power – will shape the future of multilateralism and of global governance.
AI has already sparked simmering ethical and policy debates across the world. The AI & Global Governance platform will bring a unique added-value to these existing debates by addressing questions that are of high relevance, not only to AI practitioners and policy makers, but also multilateralism. Our intention is also to connect AI and policy expertise with lessons from on the ground. The platform will gather an inclusive and dynamic community of thought leaders interested in debating and engaging with the ethical dilemmas, the risks and opportunities born out of the AI revolution.
Examining the global policy puzzles raised by our AI futures requires gathering information from dispersed sources, shining light on issues that are often unexamined and encouraging knowledge-sharing and debates across disciplinary, sectorial, regional and cultural divides.
The platform will therefore feature a diversity of perspectives, including from those who run leading AI research programs and corporate labs, those who study the use of AI in humanitarian contexts, and those who foster “AI from the streets” through citizen science and democratized innovation ecosystems.
Our hope is that the ideas shared, debated and discussed through this platform will help UN member states, multilateral agencies, funds, programmes and other stakeholders consider their own roles in shaping the governance of AI.