Simon Institute for Longterm Governance

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Acronym: SI

Established: 2021

Address: Chemin Eugène-Rigot 2, 1202 Genève, Switzerland

Website: https://www.simoninstitute.ch/

Stakeholder group: NGOs and associations

The Simon Institute for Longterm Governance (SI) is a nonprofit based in Geneva, Switzerland, dedicated to enhancing international governance to mitigate global catastrophic risks, govern emerging technologies, and safeguard the interests of present and future generations. With a focus on fostering international cooperation, SI centres its efforts on the multilateral system. In practice, their work extends across three areas. 

  • Research: SI translates complex scientific, technological, and policy concepts into accessible language to ensure that decision-makers understand and act on policy-relevant developments effectively. 
  • Capacity building: SI cultivates collaboration, exchange, and knowledge growth by facilitating workshops, training courses, and events, effectively bridging the gap between technological innovation and policymaking. 
  • Policy recommendation: SI informs multilateral policy processes, especially via the UN, through public engagements and specialised advice to policy actors. It focuses on processes related to technology governance, risk governance, and the rights of future generations. 

SI was founded in early 2021, just as advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and biotechnology were ushering in a series of drastic technological breakthroughs. While emerging technologies hold the potential to bring about immense good, they also pose great risks – risks that the multilateral system is not currently equipped to govern. Short-term incentives continue to make it difficult for policymakers to think on longer time scales, consider the needs of future generations, and address emerging risks. 

SI’s early work set out to address these issues by training policymakers on decision-making under uncertainty, advocating for the representation of future generations in dominant political narratives, and pushing for the inclusion of emerging technological risks into key multilateral agendas. As political discourse quickly began to acknowledge risks from rapid technological change, SI pivoted to supplying subject matter expertise on risk governance, AI, and biotechnology. 
To date, SI has contributed to key intergovernmental processes for reducing global risks, developed a future-proofing framework to inform the High-Level Advisory Board on Effective Multilateralism, delivered the first and most extensive UN report on existential risk and rapid technological change, and co-authored the first United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) report on the subject of Hazards with Escalation Potential. Additionally, SI has published research papers, interview analyses, and frameworks. It has also hosted numerous workshops, briefings, and training courses on future-proofing, foresight, and technology governance.

Digital activities

Emerging technologies and artificial intelligence

SI believes in the potential of human ingenuity and technology to create a future where life can thrive. They’re optimistic about the ability for emerging technologies like AI to accelerate progress towards sustainable development goals (SDGs), address the climate crisis, and boost global development. At the same time, SI is concerned about the risks posed by these technologies, with AI for instance, already posing challenges like misinformation and bias, and already raising future concerns, including rogue AI systems and a potential loss of human control.

SI aims to help policymakers keep up with the rapid pace of technological change by translating and summarising the latest science on emerging technological risks and opportunities into concrete policy advice. In tandem, SI works with policymakers to influence the creation and evolution of governance structures, improve risk management, and foster input from essential stakeholders, to enhance global technology governance to be more responsive, agile, and inclusive.

Digital policy issues

Artificial intelligence

Through their work, SI aims to draw attention to the various opportunities and risks associated with AI, particularly frontier AI systems. SI translates complex technical AI issues into legible language, conducts capacity-building sessions with diplomats, fosters exchange between multilateral actors, the private sector, and civil society, and actively participates in multilateral policy processes concerning AI governance. 

Capacity building

SI has conducted various forms of capacity building on AI, including a Training Course on AI Governance for UN Missions in New York in February 2024, where SI trained 60 diplomats ahead of the international consultations and negotiations on the Global Digital Compact, as well as a three-part AI Governance Briefing Series for Permanent Missions to the UN in Geneva from November to December 2023, where SI briefed diplomats on AI’s technical foundations and the existing multilateral AI governance landscape. The organization also provides tailored talks, training courses, and briefings to interested diplomats and multilateral governance actors on an ad hoc basis.

Policy recommendation

SI actively engages in multilateral policy processes relevant to AI governance. For instance, during the 2022-2023 review period of the Sendai Framework, SI dedicated time to raising awareness about the risks presented by advanced AI systems, speaking at events like the Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction and the High-Level Meeting during the Midterm review of the Sendai Framework, as well as delivering a thematic study on risks posed by emerging technologies, including AI. Additionally, SI has submitted numerous consultations to the Global Digital Compact on governing advanced AI systems, and responded to numerous briefs of the Executive Office of the Secretary-General and other intergovernmental bodies such as the High-Level Advisory Body on AI. Privately, SI provides individual support to policy actors, tailored to the specific context and subject area in which they operate.  

Research

With strong ties across academia, private labs, and technical research communities, the SI team has a firm grasp of the latest developments in frontier AI. SI’s focus lies in effectively translating these developments into language and advice suitable for policy actors. To date, SI has delivered the first UN report on Existential Risk and Rapid Technological Change, explaining key risks associated with AI systems and potential governance mechanisms, and developed a report on Hazards with Escalation Potential, outlining how AI may soon become a primary driving force behind various hazards. Other contributions include a report on Safe and Beneficial Artificial Intelligence for Small-Island Developing States, a concise explainer on AI: Artificial Intelligence: a Brief on Risks and Opportunities, and several articles including the importance of focusing AI governance efforts on frontier systems, including an op-ed titled Agile Multilateral AI Governance Starts with Foundation Models

Emerging technologies 

In today’s interconnected world, the majority of emerging technologies have significant digital elements (e.g. AI, biotechnology, quantum computing). They are also characterised by uncertain development trajectories and unrealised real-world applications. Much of SI’s work is based on the premise that governing such technologies requires long-term thinking, adaptability, and foresight. SI advocates for the effective governance of emerging technologies by translating the latest technical developments into concrete policy advice, providing recommendations on policy design, and offering frameworks to support the adaptable governance of emerging technologies (e.g. SI’s Future-Proofing framework.) 

Additionally, SI hosts workshops at the intersection of foresight, technology governance, and multilateralism. In September 2023, SI collaborated with the UN Futures Lab Network to organise a Foresight Workshop on Frontier Technologies, encouraging actors to reflect on the potential development trajectories of various technologies. In January 2023, SI convened a workshop titled Future-proofing the Multilateral System, inviting actors from academia, civil society, and the multilateral system to discuss ways to integrate forecasting techniques into the SDG process, manage risks associated with technologies like biotechnology and AI, and find ways to use technical standardisation to harmonise global technology governance efforts.

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Contact @ info@simoninstitute.ch