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UN chief Guterres backs proposal to create watchdog to monitor AI

The Secretary General said that the risks of artificial intelligence are a threat to democracy and human rights.

The UN Secretary-General has warned that artificial intelligence (AI) is being used to spread misinformation and hate, and backed a proposal to create an international watchdog to monitor AI.

Launching a new policy on disinformation on Monday, Antonio Guterres said that while technological advances have been used for some good, the risks posed by AI threaten democracy and human rights.

Guterres said he supported a proposal by some AI officials to create a watchdog body similar to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Generative AI technology – which can perform natural language processing tasks such as answering questions, summarizing text and even generating lines of code – has captivated the public since ChatGPT launched six months ago.

AI has also become the focus of concern over its ability to generate misinformation and deep fakes, which are AI-generated images and videos that mimic humans.

Taking AI warnings seriously

“Alarm bells are ringing on the latest form of artificial intelligence – generative AI –. And they said it the loudest from those who designed it,” Guterres told reporters. “These scientists and experts called on the world to act, declaring AI an existential threat to humanity on par with the risk of nuclear war. We must take these warnings seriously.”

Guterres announced plans to launch a high-level AI advisory body by the end of the year to regularly review AI governance systems and provide recommendations on how they can be consistent with human rights, the rule of law and the common good.

But on Monday he added: “I would favor the idea that we could have an artificial intelligence agency … inspired by what the International Atomic Energy Agency has today.”

Guterres said such a model could be “very interesting” but noted that “only member states can create it, not the UN Secretariat”. The Vienna-based IAEA was created in 1957 and promotes the safe, secure and peaceful use of nuclear technology while monitoring for potential violations of the Non-Proliferation Treaty for Nuclear Weapons. It has 176 member states.

Global AI Security Regulation

OpenAI, creator of ChatGPT, said last month that an agency like the IAEA could set restrictions on deployment, vet compliance with safety standards and track computing power usage.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has also backed the idea and said he wants Britain to be the home of global AI safety regulation. Britain will host a summit this year on how concerted international action can tackle the risks of AI.

Robert Sparrow, a professor of philosophy at Australia’s Monash University, told Al Jazeera that regulation is going to be a global issue that creates some difficulties, but he doesn’t think just one organization is going to control AI.

“We’re looking for a culture change, especially in engineering and computer science but also in government and civil society.” she said.

Guterres said he supported plans for a summit in Britain, adding that it should be preceded by “serious work”. He said that in the coming days he plans to appoint a scientific advisory board of AI experts and leading scientists from UN agencies.

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