DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY — The work to be done…
A callout by Secretary-General António Guterres
In his address to the General Assembly on 25 September 2018
“Our future rests on solidarity. We must repair broken trust. We must reinvigorate our multilateral project. And we must uphold dignity for one and for all”
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me now turn to new technologies and what we can do to uphold their promise but to keep their perils at bay.
And there is great promise. Scientific progress has helped to cure deadly diseases, to feed growing populations, to drive economic growth and to connect businesses, communities, families and friends across the world.
Rapidly developing fields such as artificial intelligence, blockchain and biotechnology have the potential to turbocharge progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.
Artificial Intelligence is connecting people across languages, and supporting doctors in making better diagnoses. Driverless vehicles will revolutionize transportation.
But there are also risks and serious dangers.
Technological advances may disrupt labour markets as traditional jobs change or disappear, even as the number of young job-seekers continues to grow. Re-training will be needed at previously unimaginable scales. Education must adapt, from the earliest grades. And the very nature of work will change. Governments may have to consider stronger social safety nets and eventually universal basic income.
At the same time, technology is being misused by terrorists and for sexual exploitation and abuse.
Organized criminal networks lurk on the dark web, profiting from encryption and near-anonymous cryptocurrency payments to traffic in people and illegal goods.
Some reports estimate that cybercrime is now putting US$1.5 trillion in the pockets of cybercriminals annually.
Malicious acts in cyberspace – such as disinformation campaigns -- are polarizing communities and diminishing trust among States.
And more and more people are getting their information from news or social media feeds that echo their views, reinforce tribalism and assure people that they are right and the other side is wrong.
The digital revolution is also being used to discriminate against women and reinforce our male-dominated culture.
Indeed, there is a deep gender gap in access to digital technologies, widening the digital divide.
We must dismantle obstacles and create opportunities for women, ensure equality and change on-line and toxic corporate cultures. The technology sector must open up and become more diverse – not least for its own benefit.
With technology outracing institutions, cooperation between countries and among stakeholders will be crucial, including Member States, the private sector, research centres, civil society and academia.
There are many mutually beneficial solutions for digital challenges. We need urgently to find the way to apply them.
At the United Nations, we are harnessing technologies in support of the Sustainable Development Goals. We are creating innovation labs, including in my office. And in July,
I established a High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation, that met yesterday, and that is a dialogue platform for all key actors.
The impacts of new technologies on warfare are a direct threat to our common responsibility to guarantee peace and security.
The weaponization of artificial intelligence is a growing concern.
The prospect of weapons that can select and attack a target on their own raises multiple alarms – and could trigger new arms races.
Diminished oversight of weapons has implications for our efforts to contain threats, to prevent escalation and to adhere to international humanitarian and human rights law.
Let’s call it as it is. The prospect of machines with the discretion and power to take human life is morally repugnant.
Heaven forbid, any new war could very well include a massive cyberattack not only targeting military capacities, but also critical civilian infrastructure.
I am encouraged by the ten possible guiding principles elaborated in Geneva last month by the Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems.
More work on these issues, aimed at building trust between and within nations, will be needed if we are to ensure the responsible use of new technologies.
I urge you to use the United Nations as a platform to draw global attention to these crucial matters and to nurture a digital future that is safe and beneficial for all.
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