Digital on Day 2 of UNGA78: AI – Not a lawless domain
Welcome to our daily coverage of the General Debate of the 78th UN General Assembly (UNGA). This summary was generated by humans and provides a comprehensive overview of how digital issues were tackled during day two of discussions on 20 September 2023. For real-time updates and in-depth reports on UNGA78, follow our live coverage on the Digital Watch Observatory‘s dedicated page through DiploAI reports, written by our AI reporting tool.
Technologies: Caution and optimism blend in discussions
Speakers on Day 2 were cautious when it came to discussing digital technologies, yet acknowledged the potential positive impact of emerging technologies. Suriname’s president Chandrikapersad Santokhi recognised the increasing reach and impact of digital technologies, the Marshall Islands’ president David Kabua acknowledged the role of new advances in enhancing connectivity between people, and Slovakian president Zuzana Čaputová highlighted the potential benefits in areas like connectivity, public health, and climate change.
But there were also several warnings issued. Mongolian president Khurelsukh Ukhnaa pointed out that rapid technological advancements pose a challenge, Chilean president Gabriel Boric Font noted that new technologies could also be sources of new injustices, Sao Tome and Principe’s Prime Minister Patrice Emery Trovoada highlighted how digital technologies could exacerbate inequality, wealth concentration, and domination, while Slovakia cautioned against the potential threat emerging technologies pose to democratic values.
As Suriname emphasised, it is crucial to harness the advantages of the technological revolution to create an accessible, transparent, safe, and secure digital transformation environment. Chile also noted that while societies must make progress, they must do it in a responsible way, making sure that new technologies benefit, not threaten, people.
AI: not a lawless domain
Speakers on Day 2 echoed the messages of Day 1 that AI must be regulated. A grim picture of a world with unchecked AI was painted by the President of the Council of Ministers of Italy Giorgia Meloni:
The applications of this new technology may offer great opportunities in many fields, but we cannot pretend to not understand its enormous inherent risks. I’m not sure if we are adequately aware of the implications of technological development whose pace is much faster than our capacity to manage its effects. We were used to progress that aimed to optimise human capacities, while today we are dealing with progress that risks replacing human capacities. Because if in the past this replacement focused on physical tasks so that humans could dedicate themselves to intellectual and organisational work, today the human intellect risks being replaced with consequences that could be devastating, particularly for the job market. More and more people will no longer be necessary in a world ever dominated by disparities, and by the concentration of power and wealth in the hands of the few. This is not the world we want. And so I think we should not mistake this dominion for a free zone without rules.
The president of the Government of SpainPedro Sánchez Pérez-Castejón emphasised the need to establish a foundation for regulating AI. Rumen Radev, President of Bulgaria, advocated for a human-centred and innovation-driven approach to our digital future and AI, anchored in principles of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. Yoon Suk Yeol, president of South Korea, underscored the importance of providing clear guidance for the governance of AI. Monaco’s Prince Albert II highlighted the global duty to create a framework of ethical norms and global governance for AI, emphasising the urgency of completing ongoing efforts in this regard. Chile asserted the obligation for all to reach multilateral consensus and establish an ethical framework for the development and utilisation of emerging technologies like AI. Italy warned against treating AI as a lawless domain and calls for global governance mechanisms that ensure ethical boundaries are upheld, emphasising the practical application of ‘algorethics’, which focuses on ethics for algorithms.
Concrete actions were also outlined: the Korean government plans to host the ‘Global AI Forum’ and to collaborate closely with the ‘High-Level Advisory Body on AI’ being established by the UN to provide a network for communication and collaboration among global experts. Monaco expressed support for this body. Italy noted that it plans to put AI issues, including algorethics, on the G7 agenda in 2024. Spain expressed its commitment to supporting the Secretary-General’s Envoy on technology, providing resources and know-how in the development of multilateral AI governance. Spain also expressed willingness to host the headquarters of a potential international AI agency.
Development: developing countries must not be left behind
Several countries on day 2 emphasised the transformative power of digitalisation and advanced technologies. Namibian president Hage Geingob and South Korea highlighted the importance of bridging the digital divide. South Korea, in particular, plans to play a leading role in bridging the digital divide by supporting the digital transformation of countries with limited digital penetration, noting that the digital divide is a major cause of the economic divide.
Namibia advocated for not leaving developing countries behind in the digital revolution. Namibiaalso stressed that access to technology can bridge gaps in education, healthcare, and economic development, ultimately propelling nations towards progress. In that line, Eswatini’s King Mswati III highlighted Eswatini’s efforts to increase opportunities for learning and skills development through the integration and use of digital technologies. Romanian president Klaus Werner Iohannis emphasised the role of digitalisation, innovation, and new technologies as enablers of sustainable development. Latvian president Edgars Rinkēvičs underscored their commitment to international cooperation in advancing digitalisation and development efforts. Julius Maada Bio, President of Sierra Leone, prioritised cutting-edge technology and infrastructure programmes as part of its national development trajectory. Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi, President of Botswana, emphasised the need to prioritise tangible priorities for infrastructure development, particularly in transit transportation, ICT, and energy sectors. Paul Kagame
President of the Republic of Rwanda emphasised the significance of inclusive digital public infrastructure, highlighting their recent initiative in collaboration with ITU and UNDP.
When it comes to UN initiatives, Namibia welcomed the recently unveiled plan known as UN 2.0. Underscoring that this ‘Quintet of Change‘ aims to provide the UN states with cutting-edge capabilities in data, digital innovation, and expertise. Meanwhile, Bulgaria stated the Global Digital Compact should harness the potential of digital technologies to accelerate the achievement of the SDGs. Spain drew attention to the adverse aspects of the digital revolution, shedding light on concerns regarding inequality, wealth concentration, and domination that can arise due to the rapid advancement of digital technologies.
Security: Cross-border cooperation needed to tackle cyber threats
The cross-border nature of cybercrime is acknowledged time after time at the UNGA General Debate, and this debate was no exception. Mongolia emphasised the transformative potential of digital technology but also underscored that it has reshaped threats to global peace and security. Mongolia, Spain and Najib Mikati,
The President of the Council of Ministers of the Lebanese Republic echoed the need for enhanced cooperation across borders to address a wide spectrum of global challenges, including cyberattacks. Mongolia also expressed support for the work of the UN to combat cybercrime, including the work of the Ad Hoc Committee on Cybercrime.
Several concrete examples were discussed, including cyberattacks faced by Moldova, which its president Maia Sandu,attributed to Russia. Additionally, Monaco highlighted the use of AI by malicious actors in launching cyberattacks, particularly in critical sectors such as healthcare and humanitarian operations.
Content policy and human rights: Combatting disinformation and protecting human rights online
Chile and Slovakia recognised the transformative power of technology and social media. They share a common concern about the challenges posed by the spread of disinformation and hate speech. Failing to confront this issue might turn social media platforms, AI, and emerging technologies into factors that worsen the existing crises, stated Slovakia and called for their immediate regulation.
Chile views technological development as a tool for unity, emphasising the need to protect vulnerable groups from disinformation and prevent further divisions at both national and international levels. They believe in harnessing the power of technology to bring people together rather than drive them apart. On a similar note, Slovakia stressed the importance of using technology with the dignity and rights of every individual in mind. To tackle these issues, South Korea unveiled plans to introduce a Digital Bill of Rights. At the same time, Romania welcomed the Secretary General’s initiative for a Code of Conduct for information integrity on digital platforms.
Economic: Digital for economic growth
Discussions around digital economy topics emerged for the first time during this General Debate. For instance, Moldova expressed determination to strengthen its economy despite the challenges posed by a war in Ukraine, including facilitating the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises, reducing bureaucracy through digital services, and exploring export opportunities in the EU market.
Additionally, Eswatini noted that the recently introduced Africa Strategic Investment Alliance (ASIA) aims to support programmes by the African E-Trade Group (AETRADE), which is focused on creating a digital marketing platform for all African countries to promote trade using modern technologies.
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