United Nations should regulate AI
People sometimes think that the United Nations does not have the power to regulate things like artificial intelligence. In fact, it does have the power to perform this incredibly important role, and 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. You see, in the past 50 years global security has moved from being a transactional pursuit that is best dealt with by resolution, to a regulatory matter, meaning we now need enforceable laws and regulations. This is not just in relation to AI, but also in areas such as cutting pollution in the atmosphere, control of contagious diseases and effective management of the oceans. So why does the United Nations sit on its hands? 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. The UN needs to adapt to this new reality, which means transitioning from an organization that promulgates (often non-binding) resolutions, to one that that identifies and manages your security needs through enforceable global regulations. A world government is out of the question. Not least because the permanent members of the Security Council can veto any change. But also, to be fair, there is no appetite among the people of the world for world government, anyway. So, working with the system that we have got, I will now take you on a very short trip through the relevant current UN powers, before explaining what needs to be done for your security: 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 answer is obvious.: To the existing agenda of the General Assembly, which is very long but 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 preventing the Security Council from then voting on them and, depending on the vote, from 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 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, 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. Expertise resides in the wider world. It does not reside in the UN delegates. Where the General Assembly has an opportunity to recommend regulation, there must be expert panels giving them all the advice they need. Then - and only then - should there be voting by the General Assembly on enforceable global regulations. Once voted upon, their recommendation can be referred by the General Assembly to the Security Council. Then, in accordance with the UN Charter, it is up to the Security Council to 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. But we should not forget that, by this process, the UN does have the power to make rules around the development of artificial intelligence to keep you safe. They should use it.