In 2019, we will develop global arenas to manage the risks and realise the potential of artificial intelligence


In 2019, we will develop global arenas to manage the risks and realise the potential of AI. 

For decades, optimists have tried to build digital technology that has empowered people to create a better world, a goal that continues to inspire startups and researchers today. But, as the events of this year have made clear, technology, especially connected technology, can also introduce tough new challenges and risks of misuse.

Next year we will build global arenas in which to communicate across borders and between organisations in an attempt to minimise the potentially dangerous effects of artificial intelligence (AI) and maximise the positive impact it can have in the world.

These arenas will need to be global; the opportunities and challenges of technology don’t stop at national borders. Technology can address shared challenges such as climate change. But it can also create international problems, such as misinformation or autonomous weapons.

And technology does not respect organisational boundaries. Today, few tech companies have the ability to fully anticipate or understand the complex societal impacts of their work, good and bad. And few non-tech organisations have the ability to effect lasting, global change on their own. Most attempts at problem-solving still take place in the silos within these groups and geographies, rather than in the spaces between them.

I predicted a year ago that the study of tech and AI ethics would become mainstream in 2018. While progress hasn’t always been fast or smooth, the tech community has clearly started to move in this direction. In 2019, that progress will expand beyond technologists. We’ll see groups and nations breaking down barriers and sharing expertise in a common search for solutions.

We’ll see the establishment of new institutions that spark meaningful global dialogue, with room for cross-cultural conversations about how to use technology for the benefit of all, even when these conversations are challenging and uncomfortable. They will comprise governments, companies, non-profits, academics and, crucially, the individuals whose lives they impact.

A starting point for what these institutions will be like can be found, of course, in the United Nations (UN). The UN isn’t perfect, but it is a lasting attempt to solve international challenges at the highest level and is the forum through which the global community was able to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, one of its greatest achievements.

Already, campaigners are pushing for the UN to ban lethal autonomous weapons (LAWs), by adding them to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, which restricts the use of weapons considered excessively injurious or whose effects are indiscriminate. In 2019 we’ll see many more groups coming together to reach new solutions for the greatest challenges and opportunities of our time.

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