Highlight 4/2020 – The Need for a UN Tech Declaration
Mario Rodrigo Canales Gonzalez, 11 December 2020
I often imagine how much past kings, conquerors, and scientists like Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, or Galileo would have paid to have access to, say, Google Maps. With no one to keep an eye on them, it would’ve definitely made their plans easier, be it war or research. The internet and computers have changed how society functions and Artificial Intelligence is accelerating this change even faster. However, these emerging technologies also bring important risks and Intergovernmental Organizations like the United Nations should do more to mitigate them.
Education, work, agriculture, banking, medicine, and war, are moving online at a fast pace. Just a glimpse at the stock market could give you an idea of who is leading this revolution: the Five Tech Giants, also known as FAAMG. For this reason, intergovernmental organizations like the UN need to adapt, learn, and implement the use of data and technology on their decision and policy-making strategies. They also need to establish a framework, or a UN Tech Declaration, on how technology should aspire to evolve and make sure that it doesn’t leave anyone behind if they want to stay relevant in the 21st Century. The UN must constantly insist that human rights, dignity, equality, and promotion of peace are integrated into any new technological invention.
A stepping stone toward this is the creation of The United Nations Technology and Innovation Labs, which were set up by partnering with the governments of Finland, Malaysia, Egypt, and India. These labs aim to “leverage emerging technology to transform societies, nations, and humanity as a whole” by working alongside universities and startups to incubate the creation of tech solutions that address UN Mandates and Social Development Goals.
Yes, global warming, hunger, and migration are urgent topics that need to be addressed. But the rise of Artificial Intelligence and the risks that it brings must not be ignored, especially in a world with more than 13,000 nuclear weapons, and where states are relying more on Artificial Intelligence and algorithms to make and automate war decisions. Something minor as a misinterpreted message or a glitch could be fatal. This means that constant collaboration between the private sector —especially tech companies— and IOs like the UN and the EU has never been so crucial as it is today.
The power and influence that tech companies have gained, and will most likely continue to grow, must come hand-in-hand with responsibility. And that responsibility must be guided by a set of universal principles and ethics, which must be crafted and be continuously revised by the UN and its member states. Be it via an amendment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or whatever other instrument or charter, the UN should have a clear, concise, and concrete set of guidelines that guide technological progress and that protect and guarantee the development of modern hardware and software.
Currently, the closest thing to a UN Tech Declaration is the Secretary-General’s Strategy on New Technologies, published in September of 2018. However, this text does not provide a framework on what values new technology should incorporate per se, but instead defines “how the United Nations system will support the use of new technologies… to accelerate the achievement of the 2030 SDGs.”
To come up with a UN Tech Declaration —or Tech Commandments— input from international organizations, peace advocates, academia, and people from various backgrounds must be taken into account. This way, citizens and governments of UN member states will have an easier way of holding the tech sector to a standard, and rising startups will have some type of pledge to which they must adhere to when building new digital products and tools.
Mario Rodrigo CANALES GONZALEZ, The Need for a UN Tech Declaration, MEIG Highlight N°4/2020, available at www.meig.ch
The views expressed in the MEIG Highlights are personal to the author and neither reflect the positions of the MEIG Programme nor those of the University of Geneva.