The United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) launched its youth outreach initiative on 16 August. The first activity organized under this initiative brought together young people from across the New York area to UN Headquarters to join an expert-led discussion on the implications of artificial intelligence for international peace and security. The event was also organized in celebration of International Youth Day (12 August).
The objectives of UNODA´s Youth4Disarmament Initiative (#youth4disarmament) are to provide knowledge and skills to young people and to empower them to make their own contributions as national and world citizens. To pursue these goals, the initiative seeks to connect young people with experts to learn about today´s international security challenges, the work of the United Nations and how they can become involved.
The dialogue in New York examined the implications of artificial intelligence (AI) for international peace and security: its role in modern warfare; its strategic implications; and the moral and ethical questions linked to the weaponization of this technology. The panel comprised experts from the Scientists against Inhumane Weapons, the United Nations University and UNODA.
The participants were welcomed by Mr. Thomas Markram, Director and Deputy to the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA), who underscored the importance of youth engagement to the Secretary-General’s Agenda for Disarmament while also stressing the role of young people as a fundamental force for change. He opened the dialogue by introducing some guiding questions: Why should young people worry about these issues? Do we need new approaches? Who should be involved?
Mr. Chris King, head of UNODA’s Science and Technology Unit and the panel’s moderator, then provided some additional framework for the discussion. In his exposition, he addressed the (elusive) definition of AI and explored AI’s military applications and implications for warfare. He also highlighted the potential impact of AI on strategic stability and nuclear command-and-control systems, the proliferation risks associated with AI technologies and the ethical and moral concerns of delegating life-or-death decisions to machines.
As a member of the scientific community and Director of Scientists Against Inhumane Weapons, Dr. Emilia Javorsky described the role of scientists in informing policymakers and the general public, helping to ensure that new technologies are rolled out in a manner that is beneficial and not harmful to society. In particular, she explained the centrality of the discussion about Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWs) to the struggle against the weaponization of AI: “If we can’t get agreement and consensus around the fact that we should not cede the decision to take a human life to an algorithm, it is going to be really hard to get those other questions right when we face issues related to AI in the justice system, AI in social media, and how AI is used for misinformation and disinformation campaigns”.
Ms. Eleonore Pauwels –Research Fellow on Emerging Cybertechnologies, AI and Genomics at the United Nations University– focused on AI’s “amplifier/enabler” role, exploring its convergence with other advanced technologies as well as its military applications. She described the potential security risks associated with Cyber-AI, AI-Biotechnology and AI-Additive Manufacturing, and explained how developments in these areas would fundamentally alter the nature of warfare. She also commented on the potential to minimize risks from AI by anticipating threats and mitigating them at the design-stage.
The discussions were interactive and the panelists presentations were interspersed with questions and comments by the young participants. Of particular interest to the youth were topics such as learning about possible modes of governance, the roles of non-military companies and the core skills that new generations should be taught to thrive in a technology-driven future. They also asked about possible career pathways at the intersection of technology and policy.
Ms. Soo Hyun Kim, focal point for Youth Engagement at UNODA’s Regional Disarmament, Information and Outreach Branch, made closing remarks for the event. She highlighted the importance of young people getting involved in the AI conversation and shaping the future they will live in. She also encouraged the participants to stay informed and engaged, to share what they learned at the event with their families and peers and invited them to participate in an upcoming event of the Youth4Disarmament Initiative: “Youth Champions for Securing our Common Future”, organized in partnership with Peace Boat.
For more information about this and other Youth4Disarmament Initiative activities, contact Ms. Soo Hyun Kim, focal point for Youth Engagement at the Regional Disarmament, Information & Outreach Branch, UNODA at email@example.com.
Story drafted by Ms. Belen Bianco
Photos by Mr. Nyoki Malafa