Humanity in ‘race against time’ on AI: UN

Humanity in ‘race against time’ on AI: UN

Humanity is racing against time to harness the immense power of emerging artificial intelligence for the good of all, while avoiding dire risks, a top UN official said on Thursday.

“We have let the genie out of the bottle,” said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, head of the United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

“We are in a race against time,” he said as he opened the two-day AI for Good Global Summit in Geneva.

“The latest developments in AI are incredible.”

Thousands gathered at the conference to hear how advances in generative AI have accelerated efforts to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems, such as climate change, hunger and social care.

“I believe we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to guide AI to benefit all the people of the world,” Bogdan-Martin told AFP ahead of the summit.

But he lamented Thursday that a third of humanity still remains completely offline, and “excluded from the voiceless AI revolution”.

“This digital and technological divide is no longer acceptable.”

Bogdan-Martin emphasized that AI has “huge potential for both good and bad”, stressing that it is important to “make AI systems safe”.

He said that was especially important given that “2024 is the biggest election year in history”, with votes in dozens of countries, including in the United States.

He marked the “emergence of a sophisticated deep false disinformation campaign” and warned that “the misuse of AI threatens democracy (and) also harms the mental health of young people and undermines cyber security.”

Other experts at Thursday’s conference agreed.

“We need to understand what we’re driving at,” says Tristan Harris, a technology ethicist who founded the Center for Humane Technology.

He points to lessons from social media — which was initially touted as a way to connect people and give everyone a voice, but which has also brought addiction, viral misinformation, online harassment and increased mental health issues.

Harris warned the incentives that push companies to roll out the technology risk dramatically increasing those negative effects.

“The number one thing driving the behavior of Open AI or Google is the race to really achieve market dominance,” he said.

In such a world, he said, “governance that moves at the speed of technology” is essential.
OpenAI head Sam Altman, who became famous around the world after OpenAI released ChatGPT in 2022, acknowledged the dangers.

Speaking via video link, he told the gathering that “cyber security” is now the biggest concern when it comes to the negative effects of technology.

Furthermore, he said there would likely be “necessary changes to the social contract, given how powerful we expect this technology to be”.

“I don’t believe that there won’t be jobs… but I think the whole structure of society itself will be (open to) some level of debate and reconfiguration.”

Overall, he points out that from the perspective of how new technologies have developed historically, AI systems are “generally considered safe and robust”.

While welcoming discussions on regulations to curb the short-term negative effects of AI, he warned that it would be “difficult” to propose regulations aimed at curbing future effects.

“We don’t know how this society and technology will evolve together,” he said.

Meanwhile, Bogdan-Martin praised that governments and others have recently been “racing to create safeguards” and regulations around the use of AI.

On Wednesday the European Union announced the creation of an AI Office to regulate artificial intelligence under sweeping new legislation.

“It is our responsibility to write the next chapter in the great story of humanity, and technology, and make it safe, make it inclusive and make it sustainable,” said Bogdan-Martin.

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