April 10, 2024
By Renee Dopplick, International Law Committee Co-Chair; UNA-NCA Board of Directors (2017-2023)

In a major win for responsible AI development, the United Nations General Assembly passed a landmark resolution on March 21, 2024, titled “Seizing the Opportunities of Safe, Secure, and Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence Systems for Sustainable Development.” Led by the United States, the resolution marks a significant step towards harnessing the power of AI for positive global impact, respecting human rights, and bridging the digital divide by enabling developing countries to participate in AI development. The resolution's emphasis on safe, secure, and human-centric AI development elevates the priority of responsible AI global governance and creates a ripple effect to help empower the use of AI for everyone, everywhere.

Focus on Responsible Development

The resolution underscores the importance of developing AI responsibly by prioritizing safety, security, and trustworthiness. These core principles garnered widespread support, with over 120 Member States co-sponsoring the resolution. The emphasis aligns with growing global recognition of the need for responsible AI governance and its role in accelerating progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Closing the Digital Divide and Fostering Collaboration

The Resolution promotes international cooperation to bridge the digital divide. This includes technology transfer and capacity building initiatives aimed at empowering developing countries to participate in AI development and uses for sustainable development. Additionally, the resolution encourages fostering “enabling innovation-based environments” to cultivate the technical infrastructure, workforce, and marketplaces necessary for safe and reliable AI systems.

Human-Centric AI for All

Building an inclusive global agenda is paramount. The resolution emphasizes human-centric, rights-based, ethical, and ethical AI development. This ensures AI benefits all of humanity, not just a privileged few. Furthermore, it underscores the importance of upholding human rights, human dignity, and fundamental freedoms as consistent with international law. Implicit are the concepts of ESG (environmental, social, and governance) and CSR (corporate social responsibility) in that the resolution encourages the private sector to implement the UN’s “Protect, Respect, and Remedy” framework and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Fairness and Accessibility

The resolution promotes fair competition and open business environments in the AI marketplace to ensure equitable access to AI technologies and opportunities. To make AI development more accessible, inclusive, and able to provide public benefits, the resolution calls for the scaling up of open-source AI systems and digital public goods. Transparency, predictability, reliability, and understandability in AI systems are also highlighted as building public trust and accountability.

Catalyst for Broader Action

In remarks introducing the resolution, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield emphasized how the resolution complements ongoing efforts by organizations like the G7 and OECD and UN entities, such as the ITU, UNESCO, and the UN Human Rights Council. She also noted the United States intends for the resolution to inform and guide future initiatives, such as the Global Digital Compact and the work of the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Advisory Body on Artificial Intelligence. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield highlighted the resolution’s role in fostering dialogue among diverse groups—the United Nations, governments, NGOS, academia, the private sector, and civil society. This multistakeholder approach promotes broader participation and continuous innovation in responsible AI development and, importantly, seeks to address the urgent need to address the digital divide by building capacity in development countries.

This UN action marks a significant step for broader UN action. This resolution sets a strong precedent for prioritizing human rights, inclusivity, and responsible development in AI. While focused on the SDGs, its principles can be applied across various UN discussions. For instance, the emphasis on safe and secure AI can inform regulating autonomous weapons systems. The principles of responsible development can be applied to governing AI in military contexts and uses of AI in space technologies. Additionally, the focus on transparency and accountability in AI systems aligns with efforts to combat cybercrime. The resolution’s emphasis on international and multistakeholder collaboration highlights the need for a coordinated approach to AI governance and action for more inclusive international cooperation, potentially leading to UN reforms in this area.

The Road to the Summit of the Future

The principles established by this resolution will be further explored at key upcoming UN events in the roadmap to the Summit of the Future in September. The AI for Good Global Summit in May in Geneva will showcase impactful uses of AI aligned with the SDGs and identify new solutions for sustainable development. The AI for Good Global Summit is organized by ITU in partnership with 40 other UN agencies and co-convened with Switzerland. Then, the annual High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in July at the UN Headquarters in New York will provide another opportunity to discuss how AI can accelerate progress towards the SDGs.
The UN General Assembly resolution on responsible AI for sustainable development is not an endpoint, but a catalyst for increased global cooperation and action to harness the power of AI for a more sustainable, equitable, and inclusive future.

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