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UN boss recommends nuclear option for AI regulation

Proposes global brainbox-bossing body based on the International Atomic Energy Agency's blueprint

United Nations secretary-general António Guterres has called for the formation of a global AI watchdog modelled after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). 

"New technology is moving at warp speeds, and so are the threats that come with it," he said in a briefing on Monday. "Alarm bells over the latest form of artificial intelligence – generative AI – are deafening, and they are loudest from the developers who designed it."

"These scientists and experts have called on the world to act, declaring AI an existential threat to humanity on a par with the risk of nuclear war. We must take those warnings seriously."

Guterres expressed his preference for UN member states to create an organization to oversee and regulate the development of AI. The agency would operate similarly to the IAEA, which develops and publishes policies and guidelines promoting the safe use of nuclear energy, whilst monitoring and enforcing safeguards preventing the technology's use for weapons development.

"Of course, it depends on member states' initiatives, but I will be favorable to the idea that we could have an artificial intelligence agency …inspired by what the International Agency of Atomic Energy is to date," he told reporters at the briefing.

Guterres acknowledged that forming such an agency would be difficult and require cooperation of government agencies and private companies, with the latter's participation meaning they would agree to having their software audited and capabilities controlled. 

One startup that seems to support this idea is OpenAI. In fact, its co-founders – Sam Altman, Greg Brockman, and Ilya Sutskever – even suggested regulation of this sort, and said the IAEA-like group should be in charge of inspecting systems that require a high level of computational resources or have capabilities above a certain threshold.

Altman has since repeated this idea during his tour of 17 countries to discuss AI with policymakers and developers.

Altman and numerous experts across industry, policy, and academia believe that if left unchecked, AI could lead to the creation of a technology that could endanger humanity. A global regulatory agency could counteract the risks by ensuring AI is developed safely in a controlled manner, some have argued. Opinions are divided, however, and not everyone agrees AI poses an existential threat.

The UN chief seems to have bought into the idea of an atomic-grade regulator. "The advantage of the IAEA is that it is a very solid knowledge-based institution and at the same time – even if limited – it has some regulatory factions. So, I believe this is a model that could be very interesting," Guterres added. ®

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