February 24, 2024

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday backed a proposal by some artificial intelligence executives for the creation of an international AI watchdog body like the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Generative AI technology that can spin authoritative prose from text prompts has captivated the public since ChatGPT launched six months ago and became the fastest growing app of all time. AI has also become a focus of concern over its ability to create deepfake pictures and other misinformation.

“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.”

He has announced plans to start work by the end of the year on a high-level AI advisory body to regularly review AI governance arrangements and offer recommendations on how they can align with human rights, the rule of law and common good.

But 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 of 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.

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

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

© Thomson Reuters 2023


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