As the Artificial Intelligence (AI) revolution continues, governments and international organizations are rapidly expanding diplomatic negotiations on the subject. In this blog post, I continue analyzing Artificial Intelligence in diplomacy, now focusing on AI as a subject of Diplomacy.
As in my previous post, Diplomacy 4.0: How Artificial Intelligence in Changing Diplomacy? diplomacy-40-how-artificial-intelligence-is-changing-diplomacy.html, I will be using DiploFoundation´s perspective on how AI influences diplomacy (DiploFoundation, 2019, p. 14-15), which divides them into three: a) AI as a diplomatic tool; b) AI as a topic of diplomacy, and c) the consequences of AI on the international system.
First, let's say that it is tough to follow up on the discussion on AI, as most international organizations and other multilateral mechanisms analyze the topic from different perspectives. However, the concerns about AI did not appear with the launching of ChatGPT a year ago. In many multilateral forums, AI has been discussed for quite some time.
AI´s impact on all fronts makes it a theme for discussion in every single arena, from ethics and biases to human rights and democracy, including data protection and economic development. Kurbalija (2023, November 10) indicates that AI governance needs to be seen as different layers, starting from the hardware, including the chips used to power AI systems, followed by data, algorithms, and apps. This division is useful as it helps focus on specific aspects of each layer.
Many organizations see AI as a great tool to help countries achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. In general, the development of AI has significant policy implications in four main areas: social and economic, safety and security, human rights, and ethical concerns (Digwatch, n.d., Artificial Intelligence).
Some recent examples of AI as an issue for diplomacy are:
In the following section, there is a brief review of some of the most important activities related to AI as a topic of diplomacy. For an in-depth view, make sure you visit AI’s Digwatch webpage.
UNESCO’s Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence.
In November 2021, all member states of UNESCO (193 countries) adopted the Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence. It was a significant milestone regarding AI because rarely all 193 countries agreed on such a controversial topic, even with no binding guidelines.
Besides, it is a very influential document as it is the only one of such documents or efforts. “What makes the Recommendation exceptionally applicable are its extensive Policy Action Areas, which allow policymakers to translate the core values and principles into action with respect to data governance, environment and ecosystems, gender, education and research, and health and social wellbeing, among many other spheres” (UNESCO, n.d.).
UN Secretary-General efforts on AI.
The UN and its organs have been working on several fronts to promote greater international collaboration in digital technology. Besides UNESCO, the Secretary-General has been promoting several actions in preparation for the Summit of the Future in September 2024.
Here are some of the highlights of the different efforts:
The UN Secretary-General Envoy on Technology.
After a year after establishing the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology, in June 2022, António Guterres named Amandeep Singh Gill the first UN Secretary-General Envoy on Technology. This is significant because the office “coordinates the implementation of the Secretary-General’s Roadmap on Digital Cooperation and will advance work towards the Global Digital Compact” (Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology, n.d.)
The UN High-Level Advisory Body on Artificial Intelligence
In October 2023, “UN Secretary-General António Guterres unveiled a new advisory body dedicated to developing consensus around the risks posed by artificial intelligence and how international cooperation can help meet those challenges” (Henshall, 2023).
The High-Level Advisory Body on Artificial Intelligence has 38 members and met for the first time in November 2023. “The Body will offer diverse perspectives and options on how AI can be governed for the common good, aligning internationally interoperable governance with human rights and the Sustainable Development Goals.” (Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology, n.d.)
The Council of Europe’s Convention on AI and Human Rights.
This is an important negotiation, as it could be the first international treaty on the subject. The Council of Europe (CoE) established the Committee on Artificial Intelligence in 2021 with the goal of “elaborating a legal instrument on the development, design, and application of artificial intelligence (AI) systems based on the CoE’s standards on human rights, democracy and the rule of law, and conducive to innovation” (Digwatch, n.d., Convention on AI and human rights).
European Union Artificial Intelligence Act.
The European Commission proposed the Artificial Intelligence Act as part of the European Union's digital strategy, which already includes the General Data Protection Regulation (DGPR) (2018) and the Digital Market Act(2022). “Once approved, these [AI regulations] will be the world’s first rules on AI” (European Parliament, 2023a).
The EU standpoint is that “AI systems that can be used in different applications are analysed and classified according to the risk they pose to users. The different risk levels will mean more or less regulation” (EuropeanParliament, 2023a).
In June 2023, the “European Parliament adopted its negotiating position on the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Act … ahead of talks with EU member states on the final shape of the law” (European Parliament, 2023b).
The negotiations between member states have advanced. However, recently, there were some disagreements that might delay the approval, which was expected as early as December.
AI governance is at the core of diplomatic negotiations.
Because AI´s impact on the world is transformational, all diplomatic endeavors center on its governance/regulations. “When debates on AI governance first emerged, one overarching question was whether AI-related challenges (in areas such as safety, privacy, and ethics) call for new legal and regulatory frameworks, or whether existing ones could be adapted to also cover AI. Applying and adapting existing regulation was seen by many as the most suitable approach. But, as AI innovation accelerated and applications became more and more pervasive, AI-specific governance and regulatory initiatives started emerging at national, regional, and international levels” (Digwatch, n.d., Artificial Intelligence).
As mentioned above, the UN Secretary-General has been on the lead in the possible establishment of a new intergovernmental body that oversees AI. The brand-new Advisory Body has the purpose of discussing possible alternatives.
At the national level, many countries already issued some guidelines or regulations about AI. To learn more about each country´s effort, check out the Government AI Readiness Index 2022 or the IBM Global AI Adoption Index 2022.
One of the main recommendations of the Future of International Cooperation Report 2023 is the creation of an Artificial Intelligence international agency that “would serve to:
Several authors, including Manor (2023) and Kurbalija (2023, November 8), indicate that most of the attention on AI risks is focused on long-term issues such as existential threats to humanity. However, more immediate consequences of machine learning systems need to be confronted, such as biases, accessibility, and others. Governments, international organizations, companies, and civil society should comprehensively address short-, medium-, and long-term AI risks to tackle them better (Kurbalija, 2023, November 8).
The calls to create an AI international body are growing. The most often cited examples are the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). However, after explaining the difficulties of setting up a new international organization, Roberts suggests that the “discussion should move away from what an idealised institution could look like, towards how existing initiatives can realistically be built upon to bring about positive change” (2023).
Furthermore, he proposes a decentralized approach, similar to the Paris Accord and welcomes the creation of the UN Advisory Body on AI that “provides a valuable outlet for progressing discussions on strengthening international coordination; for instance, through mapping which institutions are currently fulfilling international AI governance functions and providing recommendations for how gaps can be filled and duplication lessened” (Roberts, 2023).
The recently held AI Safety Summit resulted in “a joint commitment by twenty-eight governments and leading AI companies subjecting advanced AI models to a battery of safety tests before release and a major push to support regular, scientist-led assessments of AI capabilities and safety risks” (Cuellar, 2023).
In the next eleven months, until the Summit of Future, there will be extensive discussion on multiple venues regarding AI governance. The fact that major countries agreed to the Bletchley Declaration gives some hope to find a way to reach an agreement on the topic. The obstacles are significant, and the differences are pronounced. The geopolitical competition between China and the US and the existing worldwide turmoil are challenges facing negotiators.
The consequences of AI on the international system, especially on geopolitics, could be the defining element of reaching an agreement or not. The next blog post will discuss the third perspective on how to study AI´s influence on diplomacy.
Note: Many more organizations and topics are being discussed on AI at the international level, such as Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS), so only a few topics were covered in this blog post.
Cuellar, M.F. (2023, November 9). The UK AI Safety Summit Opened a New Chapter in AI Diplomacy. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Digwatch. (n.d.). Artificial Intelligence. Digwatch.
Digwatch. (n.d.). Convention on AI and human rights (CoE process). Digwatch.
DiploFoundation. (2019). Mapping the challenges and opportunities of artificial intelligence for the conduct of diplomacy. DiploFoundation and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland.
European Parliament. (2023a, June 14). EU AI Act: first regulation on artificial intelligence. EuropeanParliament News.
European Parliament. (2023b, June 14). MEPs ready to negotiate first-ever rules for safe and transparent AI. European Parliament News.
Henshall, W. (2023, Oct 23). What the U.N.’s AI Advising Group Will Do. Time.
Kurbalija, J. (2023, November 8). How can we deal with AI risks? DiploFoundation Blog.
Kurbalija, J. (2023, November 10). Layers of AI governance [Byte-sized Insights] #5. DiploFoundation. [Video].
Manor, I. (2023, June 6). Shock and Awe: How AI is Sidestepping Regulation. Exploring Digital Diplomacy Blog.
Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology. (n.d.). Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology webpage.
Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology. (n.d.). High-Level Advisory Body on Artificial Intelligence. Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology webpage.
Ponzio, R., Nudhara Yusuf, N., Mallinson, F. & Shahrukh, M. (2023). Future of International Cooperation Report 2023. The Stimson Center, Doha Forum, and Global Institute for Strategic Research.
Roberts, H. (2023, August 11). Opinion – A New International AI Body Is No Panacea. E-International Relations.
UNESCO. (n.d). Ethics of Artificial Intelligence. UNESCO webpage.
Are you interested in AI and diplomacy? Check out my blog post about Resources on Diplomacy and Artificial Intelligence diplomacy-40-resources-on-diplomacy-and-artificial-intelligence.html
DISCLAIMER: All views expressed on this blog are those of the author and do not represent the opinions of any other authority, agency, organization, employer or company.
Rodrigo Márquez Lartigue
Diplomat interested in the development of Consular and Public Diplomacies.