UNDP Supports Tsinghua University in Organizing Global Dialogue on AI Cooperation and Governance

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) joined Tsinghua University to support the inaugural International AI Cooperation and Governance Forum which kicked off on Dec. 19. 

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Designed to engage a global conversation on AI governance and international cooperation, a factor essential to a sustainable and inclusive future, the forum is the first of its kind to be held in China. With various AI principles issued by governments, non-government organizations (NGO), academic associations, and private companies, the balance between AI development and risk control has been the focus of much discussion. 

Hosted by the Institute for AI International Governance (I-AIIG) of Tsinghua University and supported by the UNDP, the Forum convened thought leaders and practitioners from around the world, including top officials from governments and international organizations, prominent academics, and executives from the tech sector.

“Of all the emerging technologies, artificial intelligence stands alone as the one with the greatest potential to empower, but also to disrupt,” said Fabrizio Hochschild, UN Under Secretary-General, Special Adviser for the UN Secretary-General on digital cooperation. “This is why the stakes for international cooperation in this area are the highest.”

Fu Ying, honorary dean of the Institute for International Governance of Tsinghua University (I-AIIG) and former Vice Foreign Minister of China, called for the construction of an inclusive international AI governance committee in her speech at the main plenary. 

“China is already taking practical action on governance and legislation on the application of artificial intelligence,” she said. “Of course, from a broader perspective, this is a challenge for all of humanity, not an issue that one or two countries can solve alone. It is vital that international agencies and countries work together on this topic, and we believe that artificial intelligence should ultimately benefit all of humanity.”

“International cooperation on AI can draw on existing global mechanisms. As we continue to strengthen international cooperation in AI, we can seek common values and develop common principles and norms to guide the healthy development and deployment of AI,” said Xue Lan, Executive President of I-AIIG.

The forum also serves as an opportunity to reflect on the benefits AI has brought and facilitate a multi-stakeholder conversation on international cooperation and governance of AI. Aiming to ensure that AI can serve as a global public good, the forum offers thought leaders the opportunity to voice perspectives from across the globe.

“We need global collaboration to succeed. We’re either going to all win together, or all lose together,” said Max Tegmark, Professor of Physics at MIT and Co-Founder of the Future of Life Institute. “This technology is so powerful, that it can make all nations much healthier and wealthier as long as we avoid conflict and work together.”

The response to Covid-19 and the use of AI has brought the discussion to the forefront. 

The pandemic has given the world a chance to reflect on the benefits AI has brought as well as how to facilitate the process of supporting an international AI governance framework by promoting mutual understanding of AI governance in different cultural contexts.

In the two sessions of the forum, two hotspot topics have also been proposed and discussed. Regarding the issue of AI governance for sustainable development, participants examined how AI can be used to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in areas such as healthcare, disaster recovery, and ending poverty and inequality, covering both the potential and the challenges of doing so. 

“When we analyze all the AI and computer science-related literature – more than 8 million papers – our initial studies show that only 0.1% of the efforts are related to the SDGs,” said Zeng Yi, Co-Director, China-UK Research Center for AI Ethics and Governance at the Institute of Automation, Chinese Academy of Sciences. “We must raise the number of publications and cases using AI to enable the realization of the SDGs. That’s our responsibility as scientific researchers and innovators in the field of AI.”

Experts also exchanged their insights regarding how AI can hinder progress if it is not designed and deployed in inclusive and sustainable ways.

“About half of the world is not connected digitally today. That has massive and very profound implications, because AI and machine learning is based on datasets, which means that the current datasets are largely coming from the rich world,” said Thomas Davin, Director of the Office of Innovation, UNICEF. “That means we are teaching machines the problems and assumptions of the rich world.” 

The thematic session on international cooperation focused on what a future governance mechanism might look like, the challenges of coordination and cooperation, and the processes involved to increase cooperation between countries on capacity development and information exchanges.

“Some are concerned that governance will stifle innovation, particularly as the technology is still in its infancy,” said Zia Khan, Senior Vice President of Innovation at the Rockefeller Foundation. “However, if we don’t develop governance tailored for AI, it will be governed by policies and laws designed for an earlier era. This can stifle the development and deployment of AI, particularly as it might be used in socially beneficial domains.”

Bringing together government, academia, and the private sector, the session’s panelists came to a consensus that some form of AI governance is not only needed but is inevitable. It must include all stakeholders in the process, including the private sector, to ensure a human-centered governance mechanism is inclusive while also providing space for innovation to flourish. 

“We need to recognize that there needs to be diversity and acceptance of a variety of principles across regions and across social and cultural norms,” said Mr. Yeong Zee Kin, Assistant Chief Executive (Data Innovation & Protection) of the Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA). “I think all nations should take an approach to see how our existing policies and regulatory frameworks can be adjusted to support innovation.”