UN Chief Considering Watchdog Agency for AI   

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Monday that he will appoint a scientific advisory body in the coming days that will include outside experts on artificial intelligence, and said he is open to the idea of creating a new U.N. agency that would focus on AI.

“I would be favorable to the idea that we could have an artificial intelligence agency, I would say, inspired by what the International Atomic Energy Agency is today,” Guterres said of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency.

He said he does not have the authority to create an IAEA-like agency — that is up to the organization’s 193-member states. But he said it has been discussed and he would see it as a positive development.

“What is the advantage of the IAEA — it is a very solid, knowledge-based institution,” Guterres told reporters. “And at the same time, even if limited, it has some regulatory functions. So, I believe this is a model that could be very interesting.”

The Vienna-based IAEA is the focal point for international nuclear cooperation. It has developed international nuclear safety standards and is both watchdog and advisor on the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

There are growing concerns about the power of artificial intelligence and how it can be abused for negative and even deadly purposes, including from Geoffrey Hinton, who is the scientist known as “the godfather of AI.”

Top U.S. cybersecurity officials have also warned of the growing dangers of AI. 

“I think ultimately there will have to be — and even industry is saying this — there will have to be some sort of regulation to govern the licensing and the use of these capabilities,” U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Director Jen Easterly told the Aspen Institute in Washington Monday. 

Easterly also emphasized the need for more dialogue on AI, pointing to proposals like the one being pursued by the U.N. 

“We can have conversations with our adversaries about nuclear weapons,” Easterly said. “I think we probably should think about having these conversations with our adversaries on AI which, after all, will be in my view the most powerful weapons of the century.” 

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced last week plans for the UK to host the first major global summit on AI safety in the autumn.

Guterres said in terms of regulating AI, an industry where things move very quickly, a set of norms established one day can be outdated the next. So, something that is more flexible is necessary. 

“We need a process, a constant process of intervention of the different stakeholders, working together to permanently establish a number of soft law mechanisms, a number of — I would say — norms, codes of conduct and others,” he said.

Guterres said the scientific advisory body he will soon create will also include the chief scientists from the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which is a specialized U.N. agency related to information and telecommunication technology.

He said outside experts, including two from the AI sphere, would be a part of the advisory body.

The UN chief also announced plans for a digital compact he says would be a voluntary “code of conduct” that he hopes technology companies and governments will adhere to, with the aim of decreasing the spread of mis- and dis-information and hate speech to billions of people and making the internet a safer space.

“Its proposals are aimed at creating guardrails to help governments come together around guidelines that promote facts, while exposing conspiracies and lies, and safeguarding freedom of expression and information,” he said. “And to help tech companies navigate difficult ethical and legal issues and build business models based on a healthy information ecosystem.”

He said tech companies have done little to prevent their platforms from contributing to hate and violence, and he criticized governments for ignoring human rights and sometimes taking drastic measures, including sweeping internet shutdowns.

Guterres said he hopes to issue the code of conduct after discussions with member states and before the U.N. Summit of the Future, which is planned for September 2024.

VOA National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this report. 

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