by Robert Muggah & Camino Kavanagh
World Economic Forum
July 5, 2018
Most technologies are dual use: take the case of digital technologies that are fundamentally transforming governance, markets and development for the better. Yet the malicious use of these same technologies also poses serious challenges to global stability. In the current international climate, the potential for miscalculation and destabilization is real. Online crime is already costing the global economy hundreds of billions of dollars a year and appears to be worsening. Meanwhile, the race is on to dominate and in some cases weaponize frontier technologies – including artificial intelligence (AI) – with implications that will undoubtedly shape the future direction of humanity. Finding ways to maximize the benefits and minimize the harms of these new tools can be surprisingly difficult.
The United Nations secretary-general, António Guterres, takes this duality seriously. He sees the potential of new technologies to deliver positive change but also to unleash serious harm. At least this is what his soon-to-be-released strategy on new technologies will claim. Conscious of the world’s growing dependence on a vast array of new technologies (often described as the “fourth industrial revolution”), the UN is preparing to do what it does best: issue new reports and set up committees to ruminate on the subject. The secretary-general’s strategy calls for expanding the organization’s knowledge base on new technologies, particularly as they relate to its core areas of work: international peace and security, development and human rights. It also recommends that the UN intensify innovation efforts, appoint tech-savvy champions, convene a panel of leaders from the private, public and non-profit sectors, and accelerate learning among UN member states. The UN chief has already put agencies on notice, requesting that they scale up innovation.
All of this is good news – assuming, of course, the UN and its secretary-general have the capacity and resources to deliver.