New UN Advisory Body aims to harness AI for the common good

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The members of the AI Advisory Body – launched on Thursday by Secretary-General António Guterres – will examine the risks, opportunities and international governance of these technologies.

Mr. Guterres pointed to the extraordinary advance in the capabilities and use of AI over the past year, including through chatbots, voice cloning, image generators and video apps. 

‘Supercharge’ global goals 

“The transformative potential of AI for good is difficult even to grasp” he said, highlighting the urgent need to address the issue, as countries confront the impacts of climate change and efforts towards sustainable development stall. 

“AI could help to turn that around,” he said. “It could supercharge climate action and efforts to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.”  

The Secretary-General believes AI could scale up and amplify the work of governments, civil society and the UN – from predicting and addressing crises, to rolling out public health and education services.

Potential and pitfalls

For developing countries it presents “the possibility of leapfrogging outdated technologies and bringing services directly to people where needs are bigger and for the people that need them most.” 

But this will depend on AI being harnessed responsibly and made accessible to all, he added. 

Today, expertise is concentrated in a handful of companies and countries which he warned could “deepen global inequalities and turn digital divides into chasms.” 

The potential harms that could be unleashed include the accelerated spread of misinformation and disinformation, the entrenching of bias and discrimination, surveillance and invasion of privacy, fraud and other violations of human rights.

UN chief’s ‘surreal experience’

Furthermore, malicious use could undermine trust in institutions, weaken social cohesion, and threaten democracy.

At the start of the launch, Mr. Guterres recounted his own “surreal experience” with a video app, where he watched himself deliver a speech in flawless Chinese – his lips moving in synch with every word – even though he does not speak the language.

“This is just one example of the incredible possibilities – and the potential dangers – of AI,” he said. 

About the Advisory Body 

The Advisory Body is comprised of 39 experts from across the world. Membership is gender-balanced, geographically diverse, and multigenerational.  

The Body is expected to make recommendations by the end of the year on the areas of international governance of AI, shared understanding of risks and challenges, and key opportunities and enablers to leverage AI to accelerate the SDGs. 

The recommendations will feed into preparations for the Summit of the Future next September, aimed at reaffirming commitment to sustainable development, and specifically into negotiations around the proposed Global Digital Compact aimed at ensuring that everyone benefits in the new technological era.

Towards effective AI governance

Amandeep Singh Gill, the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology, was asked how the experts can get on top of misinformation and disinformation, given that global governance efforts do not keep pace with AI advancement.

He said members bring together the latest expertise on how technology is impacting societies, economies and politics, “so in that manner we will be able to reduce this gap between the technology advancement, the frontier of technology, and the frontier of the governance response.”

They will also look at response to these emerging challenges, and existing gaps, so that AI governance can be more effective.

“This is the first step in that direction, and we hope to have more of this next year,” said Mr. Gill. 

“There’s an opportunity with the Global Digital Compact to embed this into more of a sustainable long-term perspective so that we are not caught napping by rapid-pace technology developments.” 



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