The international community must urgently confront the new reality of generative and other artificial intelligence (AI), speakers told the Security Council today in its first formal meeting on the subject as the discussion that followed spotlighted the duality of risk and reward inherent in this emerging technology.
António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, noting that AI has been compared to the printing press, observed that — while it took more than 50 years for printed books to become widely available across Europe — “ChatGPT reached 100 million users in just two months”. Despite its potential to turbocharge global development and realize human rights, AI can amplify bias, reinforce discrimination and enable new levels of authoritarian surveillance.
The advent of generative AI “could be a defining moment for disinformation and hate speech”, he observed and, while questions of governance will be complex for several reasons, the international community already has entry points. The best approach would be to address existing challenges while also creating capacity to respond to future risks, he said, and underlined the need to “work together for AI that bridges social, digital and economic divides — not one that pushes us further apart”.
Jack Clark, Co-founder of Anthropic, noted that, although AI can bring huge benefits, it also poses threats to peace, security and global stability due to its potential for misuse and its unpredictability — two essential qualities of AI systems. For example, while an AI system can improve understanding of biology, it can also be used to construct biological weapons. Further, once developed and deployed, people identify new and unanticipated uses for such systems.
“We cannot leave the development of artificial intelligence solely to private-sector actors,” he underscored, stating that Governments can keep companies accountable — and companies can earn the world’s trust — by developing robust, reliable evaluation systems. Without such investment, the international community runs the risk of handing over the future to a narrow set of private-sector actors, he warned.
Also briefing the Council, Yi Zeng of the Institute of Automation at the Chinese Academy of Sciences pointed out that current AI are information-processing tools that, while seemingly intelligent, are without real understanding. “This is why they, of course, cannot be trusted as responsible agents that can help humans to make decisions,” he emphasized. Both near-term and long-term AI will carry a risk of human extinction simply because “we haven’t found a way to protect ourselves from AI’s utilization of human weakness”, he said.
In the ensuing debate, Council members alternately highlighted the transformative opportunities AI offers for addressing global challenges and the risks it poses — including its potential to intensify conflict through the spread of misinformation and malicious cyberoperations. Many, recognizing the technology’s military applications, underscored the imperative to retain the element of human decision-making in autonomous weapons systems. Members also stressed the need to establish an ethical, responsible framework for international AI governance.
On that, Omran Sharaf, Assistant Minister for Advanced Sciences and Technology of the United Arab Emirates, stated that there is a brief window of opportunity, available now, where key stakeholders are willing to unite and consider the guardrails for this technology. Member States should establish commonly agreed-upon rules “before it is too late”, he stressed, calling for mechanisms to prevent AI tools from promoting hatred, misinformation and disinformation that can fuel extremism and exacerbate conflict.
Ghana’s representative, adding to that, underscored that the international community must “constrain the excesses of individual national ambitions for combative dominance”. Urging the development of frameworks that would govern AI for peaceful purposes, he spotlighted the deployment of that technology by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL). Used to determine the Libyan people’s reaction to policies, it facilitated improvements in that country’s 2022 Global Peace Index, he noted, while also cautioning against AI’s integration into autonomous weapons systems.
The speaker for Ecuador similarly rejected the militarization of AI and reiterated the risk posed by lethal autonomous weapons. “The robotization of conflict is a great challenge for our disarmament efforts and an existential challenge that this Council ignores at its peril,” he warned. Adding that AI can either contribute to or undermine peace efforts, he emphasized that “our responsibility is to promote and make the most of technological development as a facilitator of peace”.
China’s representative, noting that AI is a double-edged sword, said that whether it is good or evil depends on how mankind uses and regulates it, and how the balance is struck between scientific development and security. AI development must ensure safety, risk-awareness, fairness and inclusivity, he stressed, calling on the international community to put ethics first and ensure that technology always benefits humanity.
James Cleverly, Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs of the United Kingdom, Council President for July, spoke in his national capacity to point out that AI could enhance or disrupt global strategic stability, challenge fundamental assumptions about defence and deterrence, and pose moral questions about accountability for lethal decisions on the battlefield. But momentous opportunities lie before the international community, he added, observing: “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads to fortune.”