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The United Nations as regulator of AI

The United Nations has the power to regulate Artificial Intelligence and should use it. As Sam Altman, the chief executive of ChatGPT’s OpenAI, told legislators in the United States this week, regulation of artificial intelligence is “critical” because of the potential risks it poses to humanity. This idea is that the world should stop leaving this kind of regulation up the United States, and start utilizing the real powers vested in the UN to make and enforce rules. 'But', you might ask, 'how can the UN transform itself from 'goliath NGO' to a 'powerhouse of global governance'?' The below outlines how it can do just that: without amending its Charter; without contradicting existing international law or norms; and without losing any of its present functions, agencies or people. Most importantly, it explains how it can make this transition without upsetting the special status of the permanent members of the security Council, who would surely veto any change to the UN power structure. This is how: The UN needs to recognize and act on its power to make and enforce regulations on AI for the preservation of global stability by reference to its ‘security’ powers. This means recognizing the regulation of AI is as much in in the interests of our security as not warring with each other. In the past 50 years, the idea of global regulation has shifted from being a matter of opinion to a matter of global security. We live in a world where we know what we need to do to resolve our common existential threats, but we just can’t do it due to lack of global administration. We just don’t have the global political structures or processes to address so many issues: from cutting pollution in the atmosphere to control of contagious diseases; from effective management of the oceans to putting controls on the development of artificial intelligence. The need for global regulation is emergent, and its association with our security, as opposed to just comfort, is real. It is not just necessary for Artificial Intelligence, it is essential for a number of big ticket items that threaten humanity’s future. And global governance is not just necessary for people, it is critical for the future of so many other species with whom we share this planet. So, why has the United Nations, our preeminent body for global administration, seemingly been sitting on its hands all this time, as the need for global regulation has been bubbling away to near boiling point? Well, the UN was set up in 1945. When it was being formed, it was all about developing processes for resolving international conflicts. Back then, bequeathing some limited powers to the winners of the second world war to promote security was thought appropriate, but another layer of government regulation – global governance – was not needed. There were 2.3 billion people in the world. Interconnectedness between peoples was limited. Resources were plentiful. We had our local and national governments. That was enough. Now it is 2023. The global population is 8 billion. The capacity for people to affect the interests of one another from one side of the planet to the other, either on purpose (eg cyber), or by accident (eg pollution), are exponentially greater. Global resources are not plentiful. Our local and national governments simply cannot protect us from the burgeoning risks that other countries and people from afar present to us. Managing our security is no longer a transactional pursuit. Our security is now a regulatory matter. We, the people, regrettably need global regulation. It is the only way we can keep those who can harm us in check. World government is out of the question. Not least because the permanent members of the Security Council can veto any change the the UN structure. But also, there is no global appetite for it. So I will take you on a very short trip through the relevant current UN powers, before explaining what needs to be done: Article 39 The Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42, to maintain or restore international peace and security. Article 41 The Security Council may decide what measures not involving the use of armed force are to be employed to give effect to its decisions, and it may call upon the Members of the United Nations to apply such measures. These may include complete or partial interruption of economic relations and of rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, radio, and other means of communication, and the severance of diplomatic relations. Article 42 Should the Security Council consider that measures provided for in Article 41 would be inadequate or have proved to be inadequate, it may take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security. Such action may include demonstrations, blockade, and other operations by air, sea, or land forces of Members of the United Nations. The Charter also provides for the General Assembly to establish such subsidiary organs as it deems necessary for the performance of its functions (Article 22). OK, so - having regard to these powers, to humanity’s needs, and to the geopolitical challenges of today, what to do? On analysis, the way forward is clear.: To the existing agenda of the General Assembly, which is all about talking points, needs to be added draft resolutions for proposed enforceable world regulations. These will be regulations deemed, by experts that advise the General Assembly, necessary for the security of humanity. Once considered by the General Assembly, there is nothing preventing such resolutions for regulation, and proposals for enforcement of regulation, from being sent, by two thirds vote of all member countries as is currently required, to the Security Council. As long as they are regarded as for the security of mankind, there is nothing then preventing the Security Council from then voting on them and, depending on the vote, acting on those recommendations as they deem fit, including by enactment of regulation and measures for their enforceability Now, in order to implement these new regulations and enforce them, the UN will need to set up new administration and enforcement agencies. As the UN is good at setting up agencies, this is not a problem. This can be done under Article 22, which gives the UN the mandate to set up such bodies as are necessary to the performance of its functions. So, such regulations and their enforcement will not only be lawful, not least by reference to Article 24 of the UN Charter that provides the Security Council has a mandate to provide security to the world, they will be completely doable. Think of it: The UN, not just issuing resolutions, but actually regulating and enforcing: saving the whales; saving the Amazon and the Congo; requiring the limitation of emissions of pollutants into the atmosphere; drawing up rules around the safe development of Artificial Intelligence technologies. The point is that the UN does have power to do these things. In order for the UN to do these things in all our interests, it is integral to this process that the General Assembly must be provided with an expert panel on everything that needs regulation. The time has passed for political actors to bring their own agendas to the UN table. It must be agreed, at the outset, that the General Assembly will inform itself by expert panels on what exactly needs to be done for the security of humanity. As mentioned above, the UN has power to set up whatever bodies it needs to make things happen, under Article 22. So, it is absolutely essential, if this pathway for global regulation is to be taken, that the UN set up the necessary expert panels! If the General Assembly needs an expert panel on AI regulation in order for it to make recommendations to the Security Council for AI regulation, the UN administration must give it to them. On space regulation, give it to them. On climate regulation, on disease control regulation, on protection of oceans, give it to them. Or the General Assembly can give it to themselves. Expert panels are the only things that will save this world. Expertise resides in the wider world. It does not reside in the UN delegates. Where the General Assembly needs expertise to make a recommendation to the Security Council to make a rule that might affect everybody - give it to them, by establishing expert panels. Then, as night follows day, after receiving advice from the expert panels - and only then - should there be voting by the General Assembly on enforceable global regulations. Once voted upon, any recommendations for regulation can be referred by the General Assembly to the Security Council. Then, in accordance with the UN Charter, let the Security Council act on those recommendations, as they see fit. It is true, certain permanent members may not agree to all regulations proposed, and, one country can torpedo a rule that everyone else wants. But sobeit. That is the way of the world, and in any event, the world has signed on to a system that in 1945 deliberately made it hard for the UN to regulate, or change. It is far more important that some imperatives for the security of mankind become regulated and enforced than that we do nothing for fear of failure. If the above steps are taken, then common sense regulation, including for AI, will come into existence as night follows day. Call it 'United Nations 2.0'. So, this idea is to hurry up and bring on 'United Nations 2.0'.
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