United Nations and Artificial Intelligence


Seizing the opportunities of safe, secure and trustworthy artificial

intelligence systems for sustainable development

The General Assembly,

Reaffirming international law, in particular the Charter of the United, 11 March 2024, https://www.undocs.org/Home/Mobile?FinalSymbol=A%2F78%2FL.49&Language=E&DeviceType=Desktop&LangRequested=False

UN Security Council: AI - Opportunities and Risks for Peace and Security (July 18, 2023)
UN Security Council: AI - Opportunities and Risks for Peace and Security (July 18, 2023)

.  . . The international community has a long history of responding to new technologies with the potential to disrupt our societies and economies.  We have come together at the United Nations to set new international rules, sign new treaties and establish new global agencies.  While many countries have called for different measures and initiatives around the governance of AI, this requires a universal approach.


And questions of governance will be complex for several reasons.  First, powerful AI models are already widely available to the general public.  Second, unlike nuclear material and chemical and biological agents, AI tools can be moved around the world leaving very little trace.  And third, the private sector’s leading role in AI has few parallels in other strategic technologies.


But, we already have entry points.  One is the 2018-2019 guiding principles on lethal autonomous weapons systems, agreed through the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. I agree with the large number of experts that have recommended the prohibition of lethal autonomous weapons without human control.


A second is the 2021 recommendations on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence agreed through the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). . . .


The need for global standards and approaches makes the United Nations the ideal place for this to happen.  The Charter of the United Nations’ emphasis on protecting succeeding generations gives us a clear mandate to bring all stakeholders together around the collective mitigation of long-term global risks.  AI poses just such a risk.


I therefore welcome calls from some Member States for the creation of a new United Nations entity to support collective efforts to govern this extraordinary technology, inspired by such models as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. . . .


As a first step, I am convening a multistakeholder High-Level Advisory Board for Artificial Intelligence that will report back on the options for global AI governance, by the end of this year.  My upcoming Policy Brief on A New Agenda for Peace will also make recommendations on AI governance to Member States.


First, it will recommend that Member States develop national strategies on the responsible design, development and use of AI, consistent with their obligations under international humanitarian law and human rights law.


Second, it will call on Member States to engage in a multilateral process to develop norms, rules and principles around military applications of AI, while ensuring the engagement of other relevant stakeholders.


Third, it will call on Member States to agree on a global framework to regulate and strengthen oversight mechanisms for the use of data-driven technology, including artificial intelligence, for counter-terrorism purposes. . . .


I urge this Council to exercise leadership on artificial intelligence and show the way towards common measures for the transparency, accountability, and oversight of AI systems.  We must work together for AI that bridges social, digital and economic divides, not one that pushes us further apart. . . .



Country Statements

The UK's vision is founded on 4 irreducible principles:

  • open: AI should support freedom and democracy
  • responsible: AI should be consistent with the rule of law and human rights
  • secure: AI should be safe and predictable by design; safeguarding property rights, privacy and national security
  • resilient: AI should be trusted by the public and critical systems must be protected

Universal Guidelines for AI (UGAI)

CAIDP Statements to the UN on AI

CAIDP Statement to the UN On AI and the Protection of Fundamental Rights (Dec. 9, 2022)


At the eve of Human Rights Day, the Center for AI and Digital Policy (CAIDP) submits this statement to you, (with a copy to the UN Tech Envoy) to recommend that the United Nations encourage countries to report on the impact of Artificial Intelligence on the fundamental rights set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). This recommendation follows from the earlier work of the former High Commissioner and responds to growing concerns around the world that AI will adversely impact a wide array of fundamental rights. . . .


There is a clear interconnectedness between AI – systems, media, and the quality of democracy. How minorities, and vulnerable groups, e.g., children, people on the move, people with disabilities, are treated in policy and in practice can be a strong indicator of how human rights are respected by the government in a country. Neither should a government use AI as a manipulative and coercive instrument nor should it accept the inequality caused by AI technology.


AI technologies may adversely impact human rights. “The operation of AI systems can facilitate and deepen privacy intrusions” and “expand, intensify or incentivize interference with the right to privacy, most notably through increased collection and use of personal data.”


Article 1 – Self-determination


AI systems can undermine or constrain human autonomy. AI technologies are used to dynamically personalize an individual's choice environments, to nudge and manipulate behavior in unprecedented manners.21 According to Article 1 “All peoples have the right of self- determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development[...]”.

  • States parties should assess the impact of AI on the right of self-determination.


Article 9 – Liberty and Security


AI systems can trigger interventions by the State, such as searches, questioning, arrest and prosecution, even though AI assessments by themselves should not be seen as a basis for reasonable suspicion due to the probabilistic nature of the predictions.22 Therefore, rights to privacy, to a fair trial, to freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention and the right to life can be affected. Article 9 states that “everyone has the right to liberty and security of a person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. [...].

  • States parties should assess the impact of AI on the right to liberty and security.


Article 10 – Inherent Dignity


The Secretary-General emphasized that advances in new technologies must not be used to erode human rights, deepen inequality or exacerbate existing discrimination. He stressed that the governance of AI needs to ensure fairness, accountability, explainability and transparency.23 According to Article 10, “All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.”

  • States parties should assess the impact of AI on the right to inherent dignity.


Article 12 – Freedom of Movement


Remote biometric recognition dramatically increases the ability of State authorities to systematically identity and track individuals in public spaces, undermining the ability of people to go about their lives unobserved and resulting in a direct negative effect on the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, of peaceful assembly and of association, as well as freedom of movement.24 Thus, the right to liberty of movement will be adversely impacted. Article 12 states that “everyone lawfully within the territory of a State shall, within that territory, have the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his residence [...].”

  • States parties should assess the impact of AI on the right to freedom of movement.


Article 14 – Fair Trial


AI systems use algorithms to analyze large massive data sets, often biased and filled with inaccuracies, such as criminal records, arrest records, crime statistics, records of police interventions in specific neighborhoods, social media posts, communications data and travel records. “The technologies may be used to create profiles of people, identify places as likely to be sites of increased criminal or terrorist activity, and even flag individuals as likely suspects and future reoffenders.”25 According to Article 14 “all persons shall be equal before the courts and tribunals. In the determination of any criminal charge against him, or of his rights and obligations in a suit at law, everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law.”


  • States parties should assess the impact of AI on the right to a fair trial.


Article 17 – Privacy


Privacy is a fundamental human right, essential to live in dignity and security. “The operation of AI systems can facilitate and deepen privacy intrusions”26 and “expand, intensify or incentivize interference with the right to privacy, most notably through increased collection and use of personal data.”27 Article 17 states “ No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy [...]” recognizes the right to privacy as a fundamental human right and is a foundational right for a democratic society. AI systems have a broad range of impact on people’s lives. The right to privacy is affected when AI systems are used to flag individuals as potentially infected or infectious, requiring them to isolate or to quarantine or used for the predictive allocation of grades resulted in outcomes that discriminated against students from public schools and poorer neighborhoods.28

  • States parties should assess the impact of AI on the right to privacy.


Article 18 – Freedom of Thought


“AI-assisted content curation done by companies with enormous market power raises concerns about the impact on the capacity of the individual to form and develop opinions, as two successive holders of the mandate of Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression have pointed out.”29 As evidenced under Article 18 that states “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion [...].

  • States parties should assess the impact of AI on the right to freedom of thought.


Article 20 – Disinformation and Incitement to Violence


People can use AI-powered technology to facilitate the spread of disinformation or influence public debate, they can use it to create and propagate content designed to incite war, discrimination, hostility, or violence. According to Article 20, “any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law [...]”.

  • States parties should assess the impact of AI on disinformation and incitement to violence.


Article 21 – Peaceful Assembly


AI-assisted content curation and AI recommender systems impact the capacity of individuals to form and develop opinions. These systems “focus on maximizing user engagement while relying on insights into people’s preferences, demographic and behavioral patterns, which has been shown to often promote sensationalist content, potentially reinforcing trends towards polarization”.30 This can influence provision of the right of peaceful assembly in Article 21 that states [...] “No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right ) to peaceful assembly) other than those imposed in conformity with the law [...]”.

  • States parties should assess the impact of AI on the right to peaceful assembly.


Article 22 – Freedom of Association


“Remote biometric recognition dramatically increases the ability of State authorities to systematically identity and track individuals in public spaces, undermining the ability of people to go about their lives unobserved and resulting in a direct negative effect on the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, of peaceful assembly and of association, as well as freedom of movement.”31 Article 22 states that “everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests [...].”

  • States parties should assess the impact of AI on the right to freedom of association.


Article 26 – Equal Protection


AI models are designed to sort and filter, profiling and categorizing people based on personal characteristics. This discrimination can interfere with human rights violating “entitlement without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law” under Article 26.

  • States parties should assess the impact of AI on the right to equal protection of the law.

AI and Democratic Values (CAIDP 2023)

Pages 37 -45 (footnotes omitted)




The United Nations launched work on AI in 2015 with the General Assembly event Rising to the Challenges of International Security and the Emergence of Artificial Intelligence.123 In 2015, the UN Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) launched a program on AI and Robotics.


The Secretary General


In its 2020 Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, the UN Secretary General stated that “Digital technologies provide new means to advocate, defend and exercise human rights, but they can also be used to suppress, limit and violate human rights," noting with emphasis lethal autonomous weapons and facial recognition.124 He also announced the creation of an advisory body on global artificial intelligence cooperation to provide guidance to the Secretary General and the international community on artificial intelligence that is trustworthy, human-rights based, safe and sustainable and promotes peace. The advisory body will comprise Member States, relevant United Nations entities, interested companies, academic institutions, and civil society groups.


The Roadmap echoes the UN Secretary General 2018 Strategy on New Technologies whose goal was to "define how the United Nations system will support the use of these technologies to accelerate the achievement of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and to facilitate their alignment with the values enshrined in the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the norms and standards of International Laws" with the first principle: "Protect and Promote Global Values" and the second principle: "Foster inclusion and transparency."125


In a 2021  report Our Common Agenda, the UN proposed the creation of a Digital Global "promote regulation of artificial intelligence to ensure that this is aligned with shared global values." The Compact would be agreed on during a Summit of the Future, prepared in part by "a multi-stakeholder digital technology track."126


On January 26, 2022, Maria-Francesca Spatolisano was designated as the Acting UN Envoy on Technology. She is in charge of coordinating the implementation of the Secretary-General’s Roadmap on Digital Cooperation and advancing work towards the Global Digital Compact proposed in the Common Agenda, in close consultation with Member States, the technology industry, private companies, civil society, and other stakeholders.127


In December 2021, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres encouraged the Review Conference of the U.N.’s Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons"to agree on an ambitious plan for the future to establish restrictions on the use of certain types of autonomous weapons."128 This follows his call for an international legal ban on LAWS which he qualified in a 2019 message to Meeting of the Group of Governmental Experts on Emerging Technologies in the Area of Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems as "politically unacceptable, morally repugnant."129


UNESCO Recommendation on AI Ethics


In 2020 UNESCO embarked on a two-year project to develop a global standard for Artificial Intelligence. UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay stated, "Artificial intelligence can be a great opportunity to accelerate the achievement of sustainable development goals. But any technological revolution leads to new imbalances that we must anticipate.”130


In 2020 UNESCO published a draft Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence. UNESCO stated that the Recommendation “aims for the formulation of ethical values, principles and policy recommendations for the research, design, development, deployment and usage of AI, to make AI systems work for the good of humanity, individuals, societies, and the environment." The UNESCO draft Recommendation sets out about a dozen principles, five Action Goals, and eleven Policy Actions. Notable among the UNESCO recommendations is the emphasis on Human Dignity, Inclusion, and Diversity. UNESCO also expresses support for Human Oversight, Privacy, Fairness, Transparency and Explainability, Safety and Security, among other goals. Understandably, UNESCO is interested in the scientific, educational, and cultural dimensions of AI, the agency’s program focus.


The UNESCO Recommendation was adopted on November 24, 2021, at the 41st General Conference at its 41st session. This is the first global agreement on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence.131 UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay stated, "The world needs rules for artificial intelligence to benefit humanity. The recommendation on the ethics of AI is a major answer. It sets the first global normative framework while giving member states the responsibility to apply it at their level. UNESCO will support its 193 member states in its implementation and ask them to report regularly on their progress and practices.”


The UNESCO Recommendation was the outcome of a multi-year process and was drafted with the assistance of more than 24 experts.132 According to UNESCO, the “historical text defines the common values and principles which will guide the construction of the necessary legal infrastructure to ensure the healthy development of AI.”133 UNESCO explained, “The Recommendation aims to realize the advantages AI brings to society and reduce the risks it entails. It ensures that digital transformations promote human rights and contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, addressing issues around transparency, accountability and privacy, with action-oriented policy chapters on data governance, education, culture, labour, healthcare and the economy.” The key achievements of the UNESCO AI Recommendation include:

1. Protecting data. The UNESCO Recommendation calls for action beyond what tech firms and governments are doing to guarantee individuals more protection by ensuring transparency, agency and control over their personal data.

2. Banning social scoring and mass surveillance. The UNESCO Recommendation explicitly bans the use of AI systems for social scoring and mass surveillance.

3. Monitoring and Evaluation. The UNESCO Recommendation establishes new tools that will assist in implementation, including Ethical Impact Assessments and a Readiness Assessment Methodology.

4. Protecting the environment. The UNESCO Recommendation emphasizes that AI actors should favor data, energy and resource- efficient AI methods that will help ensure that AI becomes a more


In September 2021, the UN High Commissionerfor Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called for a moratorium on the sale and use of AI that pose a serious risk to human rights until adequate safeguards are put in place.135 She also called for a ban on AI applications that do not comply with international human rights law. “Artificial intelligence can be a force for good, helping societies overcome some of the great challenges of our times. But AI technologies can have negative, even catastrophic, effects if they are used without sufficient regard to how they affect people’s human rights,” Bachelet said.


The High Commissioner’s statement accompanied the release of a new report on The Right to Privacy in the Digital Age.[2] The UN Report details how AI systems rely on large data sets, with information about individuals collected, shared, merged andanalysed in multiple and often opaque ways. The UN Report finds that data used to guide AI systems can be faulty, discriminatory, out of date or irrelevant. Long-term storage of data also poses particular risks, as data could in the future be exploited in as yet unknown ways.136


International Telecommunications Union


In 2017 and 2018, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) organized the AI for Good Global Summits, “the leading United Nations platform for dialogue on AI.”137 Houlin Zhao, Secretary General of the ITU stated, “As the UN specialized agency for information and communication technologies, ITU is well placed to guide AI innovation towards the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We are providing a neutral platform for international dialogue aimed at building a common understanding of the capabilities of emerging AI technologies.” The 2018 ITU report Artificial Intelligence for global good focused on the relationship between AI and progress towards the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).138


UN Special Rapporteur


An extensive 2018 report by a UN Special Rapporteur explored the implications of artificial intelligence technologies for human rights in the information environment, focusing in particular on rights to freedom of opinion and expression, privacy and non-discrimination.139 The Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression report defines key terms “essential to a human rights discussion about artificial intelligence”; identifies the human rights legal framework relevant to artificial intelligence; and presents preliminary to ensure that human rights are considered as AI systems evolve. The report emphasizes free expression concerns and notes several frameworks, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.


Among the Recommendations, the Special Rapporteur proposed “Companies should make all artificial intelligence code fully auditable and should pursue innovative means for enabling external and independent auditing of artificial intelligence systems, separately from regulatory requirements. The results of artificial intelligence audits should themselves be made public.” The report emphasizes the need for transparency in the administration of public services. “When an artificial intelligence application is being used by a public sector agency, refusal on the part of the vendor to be transparent about the operation of the system would be incompatible with the public body’s own accountability obligations,” the report advises.


UN and Lethal Autonomous Weapons


One of the first AI applications to focus the attention of global policymakers was the use of AI for warfare.140 In 2016, the United Nations established the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS) following a review of the High Contracting Parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW).141 In November 2019,142 the CCW High Contracting Parties endorsed 11 Guiding Principles for LAWS.143 But concerns about future of regulation of lethal autonomous weapons remain. At present, some countries believe that current international law “mostly suffices” while others believe new laws are needed.144 Human Rights Watch provided an important overview of country positions on the future of banning fully autonomous weapons in August 2020.145 Concerns over killer reports also arose at the 75th UN Assembly in October 2020.146 Pope Francis warned that lethal autonomous weapons systems would “irreversibly alter the nature of warfare, detaching it further from human agency.” He called on states to “break with the present climate of distrust” that is leading to “an erosion of multilateralism, which is all the more serious in light of the development of new forms of military technology.”147 The Permanent Representative of the Holy See to the UN called for a ban on autonomous weapons in 2014.148


At the 2022 United Nations General Assembly, 70 countries endorsed a joint statement on autonomous weapons systems. The joint statement urged “the international community to further their understanding and address these risks and challenges by adopting appropriate rules and measures, such as principles, good practices, limitations and constraints. We are committed to upholding and strengthening compliance with International Law, in particular International Humanitarian Law, including through maintaining human responsibility and accountability in the use of force.”149