UN chief endorses government-level AI watchdog

UN Chief Antonio Guterres. — AFP/File

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday endorsed the experts’ long-discussed petition to create a watchdog for artificial intelligence (AI), similar to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

After the release of ChatGPT, the fastest-growing app of all time, and its ability to produce fake pictures and spread misinformation, AI has recently come under fire from the general public and from experts.

“Alarm bells over the latest form of artificial intelligence — generative AI — are deafening. And they are loudest from the developers who designed it,” Guterres told reporters. “We must take those warnings seriously.”

A high-level AI advisory body that will regularly review AI governance arrangements and offer recommendations on how to make them more in line with human rights, the rule of law, and the greater good was another goal he stated he intended to start working on by the end of the year, Al-Jazeera reported.

However, on Monday, he added: “I would be favourable to the idea that we could have an artificial intelligence agency, inspired by what the international agency for atomic energy is today.”

Guterres said such a model could be “very interesting” but noted that “only member states can create it, not the Secretariat of the United Nations.”

The Vienna-based IAEA was created in 1957 and promotes the safe, secure, and peaceful use of nuclear technologies while watching for possible violations of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). It has 176 member states.

ChatGPT’s creator, OpenAI, said last month that a body like the IAEA could place restrictions on deployment, vet compliance with safety standards, and track usage of computing power.

The idea has also received the support of British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who declared that he wants his country to serve as the centre for international AI safety regulation.

Later this year, Britain will host a summit on how coordinated global action can address the dangers of AI.

While supporting the idea of a summit in Britain, Guterres insisted that “serious work” should be done in advance of it. He stated that a scientific advisory board composed of leaders in the fields of artificial intelligence and science from UN organisations will be chosen in the coming days.

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