Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the informal meeting of the General Assembly on the independent High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation, in New York today:
Technology is accelerating, and we, the multilateral system of the digital age, are unprepared and need to catch up. That is why I am pleased that this independent High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation has presented its report to me today.
Not a day passes for me without seeing the ways in which digital technology can advance the United Nations’ mission of peace, human rights and sustainable development. Nor does a day pass without news of the disruption digital technology can cause and the threats it can bring to that mission.
If we consider the accelerating pace at which these technologies are transforming economies and societies, I believe that the international community, including policymakers, is failing to meet its responsibilities. The systems for governance of digital technology are old, fragmented and reactive. The longer we wait to update these systems, the further we will fall behind.
Twenty-five years after Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, it had reached about 8 million people. Twenty-five years after the invention of the World Wide Web, the Internet has reached more than 4 billion people. The world has never known such a rapid pace of technological change. While digital technology has created enormous opportunities, at the same time, the lack of preparation and cooperation by the international community is leading to some very bad outcomes.
Social media enhances our connections to friends and family — but is also used to broadcast hate and violence, disrupt social cohesion and invade privacy. We celebrate the achievements of artificial intelligence and automation, but we are wary of their weaponization, of the biases built into their algorithms and of their impact on employment levels across the globe.
This is an urgent, global issue. And so, this Panel was drawn from experts of all ages, across many fields — from blockchain, to artificial intelligence, economics, Internet governance and digital activists; from many regions and cultures. I asked the Panel to provide me with a better understanding of the key digital opportunities and challenges before us, and to recommend how those opportunities can be harnessed and the risks mitigated. They have provided us with a series of ideas on how we can better govern digital technology development, through open, agile and multi-stakeholder models.
I intend to study this report closely, and I urge you to do the same. I hope it will stimulate an urgent and open debate between Governments, the private sector, civil society and others on how we move forward together safely in the age of digital interdependence. Once we have reflected and discussed its findings and recommendations, I intend to create a road map for the role of the United Nations in this digital space.
Although these technologies are new and revolutionary, we can learn from previous experience. Our predecessors came together in times of great geopolitical strain and divergence, to agree on acceptable use of nuclear technology, biotechnology and space flight. We must do the same. Though the constituents around the table will be more diverse, and the solutions must be more flexible, success is within reach.
When future generations look back at our times, I believe they will ask three questions: Did you work to preserve our planet from climate catastrophe? Did you make and keep the peace? And did you ensure that the digital age was one of prosperity and fulfilment? I thank our distinguished colleagues from the High‑level Panel, and I look forward to their presentation. Thank you.