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I just spent a couple of hours trying to understand the UN’s role in the governance of AI. The most important effort seems to be the Global Digital Compact (GDC). An initiative for member states to “outline shared principles for an open, free and secure digital future for all". The GDC has been developed by member states since at least 2021 and will be finalized at the upcoming Summit for the Future in September. Recently, the first draft (Zero Draft) was shared and will be discussed and iterated in the final months before the Summit. The Simon Institute wrote an excellent seven-page response to this. I warmly recommend reading their response but here’s my imperfect summary (the figures are copied from their response).


What does the draft propose?

Four new entities or mechanisms

screenshot 2024 04 05 at 16 59 53


Strengthening of existing entities or mechanisms

screenshot 2024 04 05 at 17 00 36


What are the strengths of the draft?

  • It covers a substantive set of topics while being ambitious and precise in the commitments and actions it proposes. It goes beyond “vague” principles by suggesting four new entities/mechanisms.
  • It doesn’t discount what already exists and emphasizes the need to utilize existing efforts and avoid overlap and fragmentation. It does so by suggesting the strengthening of existing entities/mechanisms.



What’s missing from the draft?

In order for the GDC to be a promising multilateral regime complex for AI governance, it needs to

  • Acknowledge that AI is not a single technology. Distinguishing between narrow and advanced AI would allow us to balance AI safety and foster AI access and benefit-sharing.
  • Agree on red lines - i.e., thresholds that, if exceeded, would pose unacceptable risks.
  • Acknowledge the Global South’s significant contributions to the global AI supply chain.
  • The silence on the question of where and how the international community will make decisions on the governance of AI.




PS. It has been possible to submit contributions to the GDC, and you can find hundreds of contributions here - ranging from China to Microsoft and seemingly random private individuals.




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