STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN - A United Nations (UN) technology envoy has said that there is an urgent need for the governance of artificial intelligence (AI).
The envoy, Amandeep Gill, has called for a united approach to AI governance, stating that nations need to come together as a global community to address the challenges of the digital divide, the harm and protection of human rights online, and the governance of emerging technologies.
Speaking at the sideline of the Stockholm Internet Forum (SIF), the UN Undersecretary General said that there has to be a global approach to AI governance.
Gill added that UN Secretary General António Guterres has already called for the Global Digital Compact Summit to be held in September 2024 and a process has started to elaborate.
He said that it will be a very helpful instrument for people to come together globally to address challenges that cause digital divide, the harm and protection of human rights online and the governance of emerging technologies such as AI.
“The Global Digital Compact is that platform which can bring us together for impactful and coordinating actions on digital technologies,” Gill told Kiripost in an interview.
Gill said that the most important issue today in terms of digital governance is the governance of AI for humanity. He added that the digital divide in Cambodia and many other parts of the world means billions of people are still not connected to the internet and are unable to access it affordably, with high data costs.
“It is a growing data divide and is a growing AI divide,” he said.
Gill said that a large part of the world is contributing data on the internet and other platforms, and that data is being used to create services and wealth that is not available to those who contributed to making the wealth. Therefore, he called it a colonial form of extractive economy.
“We need to address this urgently, building up capacity around data in the developing world by standing for digital public infrastructure, digital public goods that allow more people to participate in the digital economy.”
Gill said that when it comes to AI, there are opportunities and ways that people can use it to address some of the development challenges moving to an energy efficient, more circular economy where source extraction is minimized. However, this will require investing in data, data-related infrastructure, and data human resources.
“Without data, we cannot have AI so developing countries such as Cambodia must invest more in putting together data at the same time. For data governance, if there is no protection around data, people will not trust the data to either the government or the private sector platforms, so data economy, data protection and data empowerment go hand-in-hand.”
He said that when people start to develop AI solutions, detect financial fraud to fight against corruption and also monitor the state of the roads or projects, then the general public will see that the data that they have contributed is helping them improve their lives. This builds trust in the use of AI.
Human beings are much smarter than machines
Gill also urged people to relax and not worry too much about the growth of AI. “We should not worry about AI becoming as intelligent as human beings. Human beings are much smarter than machines and will continue to be so for a very very long period of time.”
However, he added that people should be concerned about making proper use of AI. While AI is not very smart, if humans use it in “dumb” ways then it can cause a lot of harm. This can be in terms of the job market, shifting jobs, misinformation and disinformation, or the use of AI in cyber weapons or other kinds of weapon systems.
“It's about how we use AI. That's why there is an urgent need for the governance of AI and for the governance of AI across borders.”
Gill also urged governments in the region to open spaces for the expression of opinions online amid a growing trend of internet restrictions and shutdown.
“Any restrictions on access to information or access to the internet has to be legitimate, and has to be clearly restricted. Plus, the expression of opinion on digital platforms should be seen as just that, it’s an expression of opinion unless it's a clear incitement to violence or an illegal act,” Gill said.
Gill also touched on the issue of cyber scams in Cambodia. Despite being unaware of specific cases, he added that there is a process underway in Vienna on a convention on cybercrimes and scams. This involves a legally-binding treaty that will look at the criminal use of ICTs and the growing problems related to scams and the exploitation of people.
“It’s a growing problem, including in the developing world where a significant percentage of GDP is being lost to these cyber scams. This treaty, which is under negotiation, once its concluded will help reinforce international cooperation and judicial criminal cooperation in addressing this threat.”