AI UN Secretary-General kicks off UNGA 78 with high prominence of AI and digital issues

Guterres highlighted the dire challenges facing the world, including those posed by new technologies.

 Crowd, Person, People, Adult, Male, Man, Clothing, Formal Wear, Suit, Face, Head, Audience, Accessories, Tie, Speech, António Guterres
UN Secretary General delivers his speech at the opening of the UNGA78. Photo credit: UN

The General Debate of the 78 UN General Assembly started with the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s presentation of the Report of the Secretary-General on the work of the Organization.

Guterres highlighted the dire challenges facing the world, exemplified by the recent devastating floods in Derna, Libya. These challenges include climate change, geopolitical tensions, and a lack of global cooperation. He emphasised the need for strong, effective multilateral institutions that reflect the current world order and work towards equity and universality.

He underscores the deepening divides among economic and military powers, as well as North-South and East-West disparities, which risk causing a rupture in global systems. Guterres then calls for the reform of institutions like the UN Security Council and the Bretton Woods system to better represent the contemporary world.

Within countries, democracy is threatened, authoritarianism is on the rise, inequalities are growing, and hate speech is increasing. Guterres calls for statesmanship and compromise to address these challenges. He acknowledged the promise of multilateral action in recent global agreements related to biodiversity, climate, and sustainable development. However, the humanitarian system is strained, and conflicts persist in various regions.

 Crowd, Person, Performer, Face, Head, Audience, Leisure Activities, Music, Musical Instrument, Musician, Computer, Electronics, Laptop, Pc
Source: United Nations YouTube channel

Guterres emphasised the need for immediate action on climate change, urging countries to transition away from fossil fuels and commit to net-zero emissions. He also called for gender equality, human rights, and for addressing the challenges posed by new technologies, including AI. He noted that ‘AI is on everyone’s lips – a subject of both awe, and fear.’

Guterres acknowledged the rapid advancements in AI and the potential risks it poses to human rights, including the spread of hate speech and disinformation, online surveillance, and data harvesting. He called for urgent action, advocating for new forms of governance for AI technologies, with input from experts and those monitoring its abuses. He reiterated the call for the establishment of a Global Digital Compact involving governments, regional organisations, the private sector, and civil society to mitigate these risks and harness AI’s benefits.

The address also mentions the possibility of creating a global entity on AI, drawing inspiration from existing international organisations like the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

To advance concrete governance solutions, Guterres announced the appointment of a High-Level Advisory Body on Artificial Intelligence, which will provide recommendations by the end of the year. Additionally, the upcoming Summit of the Future was highlighted as a unique opportunity to address these emerging threats in alignment with the principles of the UN Charter.

Bookmark our dedicated page to follow live updates from the 78th UNGA session in New York, powered by DiploAI and experts.