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Humanity in ‘race against time’ on AI

By AFP - May 31,2024 - Last updated at May 31,2024

A robot using artificial intelligence is seen at a stand during the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) AI for Good Global Summit in Geneva on Thursday (AFP photo)

GENEVA — Humanity is in a race against time to harness the colossal emerging power of artificial intelligence for the good of all, while averting dire risks, a top UN official said on Thursday.

“We’ve let the genie out of the bottle,” said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, head of the United Nations’ International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

“We are in a race against time,” she told the opening of a two-day AI for Good Global Summit in Geneva.

“Recent developments in AI have been nothing short of extraordinary.”

The thousands gathered at the conference heard how advances in generative AI are already speeding up efforts to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems, such as climate change, hunger and social care.

“I believe we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to guide AI to benefit all the world’s people,” Bogdan-Martin told AFP in an email ahead of the summit.

But she lamented on Thursday that one-third of humanity still remains completely offline, and is “excluded from the AI revolution without a voice”.

“This digital and technological divide is no longer acceptable.”

Bogdan-Martin highlighted that AI holds “immense potential for both good and bad”, stressing that it was vital to “make AI systems safe”.

She said that was especially important now, given that “2024 is the biggest election year in history”, with votes in dozens of countries, including in the United States.

And “with the rise of sophisticated deep fakes disinformation campaigns, it’s also the most contentious one,” she said.

“Not only does this misuse of AI threaten democracy, it also endangers young people’s mental health and compromises cyber-security.”

In an address to a separate event focused on AI governance this week, the ITU chief said that “the power of AI is concentrated in the hands of too few”.

Bogdan-Martin hailed that governments and others had become more focused on regulation and protections around the use of AI.

For instance, on Wednesday the European Union announced the creation of an AI Office to regulate artificial intelligence under a sweeping new law.

“It’s our responsibility to write the next chapter in the great story of humanity, and technology, and to make it safe, to make it inclusive and to make it sustainable,” Bogdan-Martin said.

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