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AI Governance Day: From principles to implementation

For the past seven years, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has been promoting artificial intelligence (AI) solutions for the good of humanity.

The AI for Good platform, a multi-stakeholder community of 28,000 people from over 180 countries, focuses on putting AI at the service of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The SDGs have been the compass all along. But the latest AI for Good Global Summit features a much sharper, stronger focus on AI governance, ITU Secretary-General Doreen Bogdan-Martin told participants in her AI Governance Day welcome address. “Because it’s not the benefits, it’s the risks of AI that keep us all awake at night,” she said.

The first dedicated AI Governance Day, held on 29 May ahead of the summit, brought government leaders and the global AI community together to focus on the shift from principles to implementation.

This meant considering how frameworks rooted in UN norms and values, including human rights, apply to rapidly evolving AI technologies.

ITU – the UN agency for digital technologies – aims to make AI and other emerging solutions and standards available and affordable worldwide, ensuring that no country is left behind.

Key factors of AI governance

Three key factors for AI governance emerged from the morning discussions, according to Bogdan-Martin: 1) Developing technical standards; 2) Putting human rights, inclusion, and other core UN values at the heart of AI governance; and 3) Inclusive development through capacity building.

Namibia’s Minister of Information and Communication Technology, Emma Inamutila Theofelus, added further takeaways:

  • Neither reinventing the wheel nor starting from scratch, but building on existing governance frameworks such as in the automobile and pharma industries and integrating AI governance with other governance, such as in the field of climate and taxes.
  • Bringing producers and users of AI together in the same dialogue to guide AI on a common ground.
  • Challenging global applicability of AI, for example, removing biases, so as not to perpetuate discrimination that already exists.

Leveraging the UN system

By 2050, there will be 10 billion people on the planet. The world will need more food, of better quality, and of more diversity.

“For food security, we need to improve productivity with technology across the value chain. To make food more affordable, we need to reduce the cost of food and food loss in the Global North,” said Dongyu Qu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). “We need to bridge IT with biology and closer collaboration,” he added.

Global patent application filings rose for three consecutive years, to a record of nearly 3.5 million in 2022. The number of patent applications in the field of information technology grew by 13.7 per cent.

“The intellectual property system is a human-centred system; it puts the human creator at the centre of it,” said Daren Tang, Director-General, World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). “It is important to have an ecosystem where technology can be absorbed in a meaningful way. It is critical that WIPO works with ITU, UNU, FAO” and other UN agencies, he added.

Gilbert Houngbo, Director-General, International Labour Organization (ILO) noted how AI will shake up employment, saying: “Millions of jobs will be lost and millions will be created.”

Many jobs are already lost, with far more to follow. But new jobs will be created, and many will be transformed or augmented by AI. ILO is therefore advocating for skilling, re-skilling, up-skilling and re-conversion.

“We all have to step up life-long learning; this will become key to minimizing the impact of technology on jobs,” Houngbo said.

Continued dialogue and iterative policy development will be vital in navigating the evolving landscape of AI technology and its impacts on society.

“We need to create a platform where people of the Global North and South can come together and co-create to make AI effective and work for everyone,” said Tshilidzi Marwala, Rector, United Nations University (UNU) and UN Under-Secretary-General.

“Co-creation is happening here, today. Let’s build on this platform to co-create,” confirmed Doreen Bogdan-Martin.

From principles to implementation

ITU has been convening the UN system around AI since the first AI for Good Global Summit in 2017 and co-leading a UN inter-agency coordination mechanism with UNESCO since 2021.

The inter-agency group is developing tools and guidelines, and studies for the UN System to help countries make the best of AI, including:

These and other resources are the group’s contribution to the Global Digital Compact and the Summit of the Future this September in New York.

“AI is changing our lives. The United Nations is doing things that matter for people,” said Gabriela Ramos, Assistant Director-General for the Social and Human Sciences, UNESCO. “The richness is there. We work with Member States on to how to handle AI,” she added.

To conclude, experts, leaders and other AI Governance Day participants want to see:

  • Responsible frameworks tying AI closely to ethics and human rights, including UN norms and values in AI governance.
  • Interoperability among technology platforms and regulatory approaches.
  • International technical standards to keep AI working for the good of humanity.
  • Leverage AI to bridge divides – not let it create new divides.
  • Global solidarity and resource-sharing to make sure AI leaves no one behind.

“It is important to develop AI pragmatically, not to wait for treaties, to correspond to the speed of technology,” underlined Tomas Lamanauskas, ITU’s Deputy Secretary-General.

Header image credit: ITU (featuring Tomas Lamanauskas and Gabriela Ramos speaking at a session on AI Governance Day)

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