ITU Secretary-General at the AI for Good Global Summit held in Geneva, Switzerland on 6 and 7 July.

A call to action for inclusive, safe and responsible AI

Based on Doreen Bogdan-Martin ITU Secretary-General’s remarks at the AI for Good Global Summit held in Geneva, Switzerland on 6 and 7 July.

Leaders in government, the private sector, academia, civil society, and the United Nations have just gathered at the AI for Good Global Summit convened by ITU – the first event of its kind since generative artificial intelligence shocked the world a few months ago.

It comes at a time of growing calls for AI governance and regulation.

As UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the participants, it is our joint responsibility to ensure that AI reaches its full potential while preventing and mitigating harms.

At stake is the ability to use AI for sustainable development.

But we are running out of time. Almost eight years after the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are off track.

Poverty and hunger are on the rise. And a triple planetary crisis of climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss has pushed humanity to the brink.

Using AI to help get the 2030 Agenda back on track is no longer just an opportunity, it is our urgent responsibility.

A global movement

The first AI for Good Global Summit in 2017 was a springboard for what has become a global movement, with a community of 20,000 people on our AI for Good Neural Network — and growing.

AI for Good is about standards, machine learning challenges, start-up competitions, and so much more. It’s a collective effort to scale beneficial AI globally, both inside and outside the United Nations.

Our UN sister agencies — over 40 in total — have made AI for Good the UN’s primary platform for AI.

Together, we recently reported on more than 280 projects harnessing AI to mitigate climate change, transform education, fight hunger, eliminate poverty, and tackle all the other pressing issues covered by the SDGs.

Finding a path forward

This year’s AI for Good Global Summit takes our ambitions to rescue the SDGs further.

At this critical and historic moment, I called on everyone to help the world better understand what kind of regulations and guardrails we need to put in place today for the development and deployment of inclusive, safe, and responsible AI.

Because it’s time to make concrete proposals to find a way forward, and to put human values first.

I called for an AI that benefits everyone, including the 2.7 billion people who are still offline worldwide.

They are the ones at the very heart of the SDGs, and need to be part of how we design and use AI.

Part of this call-to-action means making sure that the countries with low technological capabilities receive the support they need.

I also called for AI that is non-discriminatory.

It is essential that we address all forms of biases, and develop ethical and rights-based systems that ensure transparency and accountability.

Finally, I called for an AI that uses data that works for people, not against them.

These are not just core UN values, they are universal and human values.

Future scenarios

As we look to the future, we face three possible scenarios.

In the first one, AI lives up to its promise. The world sees a marked decrease in poverty, in inequality, and in environmental degradation.

We, as a global community, do the right thing by enacting global governance frameworks allowing innovation to flourish while addressing all ethical, safety, and accountability considerations.

In the second scenario, we fall short of harnessing AI’s potential for sustainable development. With no regulations in place, unchecked AI advancements lead to social unrest, geopolitical instability, and economic disparity on a scale we have never seen before.

In the third scenario, AI makes breakthroughs in healthcare, energy, education, and other key areas possible. But wealthier countries are the ones who are reaping the benefits.

The guardrails we put in place for AI are not as ambitious or inclusive as we need them to be.

Failure is not an option

Many of our questions on AI have no answers yet.

But we know that AI development will not wait, that the SDGs will not wait, and that failure is not an option.

The era of generative AI is just beginning, and its future has yet to be written.

I choose the scenario where AI lives up to its promise — where we stand for the SDGs and digital equality.

Which one will you choose?

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