UN adopts landmark resolution on global AI regulation

The US-led resolution was described as a ‘historic step’ in sharing responsibility for safe AI and has been backed by Ireland, the UK, the EU and, notably, China.

The UN has adopted a landmark resolution on the promotion of “safe, secure and trustworthy” artificial intelligence (AI) systems. This is the first time the global body has moved to regulate the emerging technology.

Proposed by the US last week to articulate a “shared approach” to AI systems, the draft resolution was adopted by the general assembly without a vote yesterday (21 March) and has been backed by more than 120 countries.

Through it, the assembly calls on members states to “refrain from or cease” the use of AI systems that are “impossible to operate in compliance with international human rights law” or that pose “undue risks” to the enjoyment of human rights.

“The same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, including throughout the life cycle of artificial intelligence systems,” the assembly said.

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan described the adoption of the resolution as a “historic step” in fostering safe and trustworthy AI systems and said that it lays out a “comprehensive vision” for how countries should respond to the opportunities and challenges of AI.

“It lays out a path for international cooperation on AI, including to promote equitable access, take steps to manage the risks of AI, protect privacy, guarding against misuse, prevent exacerbated bias and discrimination,” Sullivan wrote in a statement.

“Developed in consultation with civil society and private sector experts, the resolution squarely addresses the priorities of many developing countries, such as encouraging AI capacity building and harnessing the technology to advance sustainable development.

“Critically, the resolution makes clear that protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms must be central to the development and use of AI systems.”

Some of the co-sponsors of the draft resolution included US allies such as Ireland, the UK, Germany, Canada, India, France, Australia and the EU. While China was notably missing from the mix at the time, the country is now a co-sponsor of the resolution.

This UN resolution comes just a week after the EU finally adopted the AI Act in a landslide vote, marking an end to negotiations and hurdles since the legislation was first discussed in 2021.

The result means the EU will soon have arguably the most robust and detailed form of AI regulation in the world, in a bid to rein in the high-risk aspects of this evolving technology.

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