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Patrizio Civili, IDLO Special Advisor, chaired the First Session of the 23rd Infopoverty World Conference

The role of information and communication technology (ICT) and artificial intelligence (AI) in global affairs holds considerable importance, especially concerning the attainment of UN objectives and aspirations.

The current emphasis on AI mirrors broader discussions in global policy circles and within the UN, underscoring the necessity for effective governance and collaborative efforts to expedite the realization of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

It is imperative to integrate core values, promote peace-building, and uphold the rule of law in leveraging AI's capabilities while being vigilant against potential misuse. As showed by  PATRIZIO CIVILI, Special Advisor to the Director General at IDLO and Former UN Assistant Secretary General, various initiatives at both UN and governmental levels are actively working towards establishing robust frameworks for governing AI responsibly and ensuring its ethical application.


“Before introducing the distinguished speakers who will participate in the discussion, let me first say how much I, and so many colleagues in the international system, appreciate the unique mix of vision, practical experience and success stories, and a sincere desire to make a distinct contribution to the broader UN mission of peace and development, that you, Pierpaolo and Infopoverty bring to the table.
These conferences ‘walk the talk’ in more ways than one.  Over the past several years, the themes of ICT and, now, of Artificial Intelligence that characterize the Infopoverty agenda have been gaining an increasingly central place in the international debate.  
But these conferences have been doing much more than simply providing evidence of the importance of these technologies in world affairs.  They have constantly sought to relate the contribution of these technologies to specific UN initiatives and goals.  And they have done so not only by talking about the good that they can do but, at the same time, by walking us through the many concrete initiatives sponsored by Infopoverty across the world that show that it can be done, and with limited resources if vision and political will are there.  
These conferences ‘walk the talk’ not only with respect to WHAT is on their agenda but also, importantly, in relation to WHO they bring to the table.  At the UN we speak constantly about whole-of-society approaches…the imperative to bring into the international discourse on peacebuilding and development, along with governments, the private sector, academia, civil society, women as well as men, and the young along with the old.  This however quite often results in little more than tokenism.  
At these Infopoverty conferences there may be a tendency to discriminate a bit—I guess I am the ultimate proof of this bias—in favor of the VERY OLD vis-à-vis the VERY YOUNG, but for the rest a deliberate effort is evident to ensure all of the different stakeholders who not only have something to say but can also help make it happen, all have a place at the table at these conferences as equal partners.
The choice of artificial intelligence as a central topic of this year’s conference could not be more timely.  In terms of the policy discourse taking place around the world, and equally in terms of the ongoing debates here at the UN and across the UN governance structure, the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council but also importantly the Security Council.  
Artificial intelligence had a central place in the Secretary General’s “Our Common Agenda”—a visionary document that he was mandated to produce by the Summit held to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the Organization--and in the many initiatives that sprung from that Agenda, including the important Summit of the Future that will convene here at the UN this coming September.
Externally, policy discussions and the political debate on artificial intelligence tend to focus on the threats, the dangers, that the unchecked evolution of artificial intelligence may pose, while the scientific debate tends to focus on the great potential benefits that artificial intelligence promises, particularly in the economic sphere. 
Here at the UN, the emphasis is on global governance and international cooperation and knowledge sharing, with a particular emphasis on unleashing its potential for accelerating the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals that are currently lagging significantly behind in many areas.
Both outside and inside the UN we have a long way to travel to fully grasp the totality of the potential but also the risks that artificial intelligence carries.  But we had better hurry up on this travel because the speed of development of this technology is spectacular and unprecedented.  
For what it’s worth, my take is that it is in the arena of values--in the larger struggle for peacebuilding, for human rights, for social and environmental justice for present and especially for future generations—that the effort to harness the great potential of artificial intelligence for good will succeed or fail.  And failure would have major negative cascading effects on the drive for both peace and development.  
The mix of challenges that the world is facing today, of which artificial intelligence is an increasingly important part, is extremely complex.  It carries major threats along with significant promise.  It seems to me that it will be our capacity to tackle these challenges at the core in a truly integrated way that will determine any chance we may have to make renewed, concrete progress toward peaceful, inclusive, and just societies, rooted in the rule of law, that the 2030 Agenda, with its SDGs, is calling for.  
What I mean by ‘the core’ is the culture, the governing spirit, that will prevail in the period ahead.  
In our speeches here at the UN we keep talking about the “poly-crises”—the inter-related political, economic, social, and environmental crises—that we are currently confronting.  
I have in mind an even deeper ‘core’.  Agenda 2030 has reminded us that there is no development without peace and no lasting peace without development.  Contrary to this reminder, what we are observing these days are clear, recurring setbacks from the culture of peace that the UN Charter sought to enshrine, and a reversal to a culture of the past, where war is viewed as a perhaps unfortunate but inevitable way of winning disputes and settling conflict.  This is being fueled by growing divisiveness within and among countries and by waning trust in the institutions of government.  
In my view, these are the basic trends that must be reversed, as a condition to ensure that malicious applications of artificial intelligence to spread falsehoods, fuel mistrust and victimize people are effectively countered and, the great potential that artificial intelligence carries to advance and sustain humanity’s progress can be effectively exploited.  
Progress in advancing the rule of law is equally critical.  The rule of law, as distinct from rule by law, means advancing laws, policies and institutions that are people-centered and geared to combating inequalities and furthering justice and inclusion. As such, the rule of law and the ethos it represents are the essential foundation to orient and sustain the legal and policy frameworks necessary to ensure that the potential that artificial intelligence carries as a force for good, as a global public good, can be fully realized. 
Ultimately, artificial intelligence is a striking manifestation of the amazing advances that human knowledge can introduce for the common good.  But artificial intelligence also represents a major challenge to human nature to ensure that both the ethical and political environments are there for these advances to truly serve the interests and welfare of people everywhere.  
It is encouraging to see how these sentiments addressing the potential of artificial intelligence as a global public good are guiding many of the initiatives underway these days at the UN.  I am thinking of the comprehensive resolution on artificial intelligence recently adopted by the General Assembly that seeks to encapsulate the many policy statements and pronouncements produced by a range of agencies within the wider United Nations system, and the Global Digital Compact currently being negotiated under the aegis of the General Assembly as part of the preparation for the Summit of the Future.  
It is to be hoped that these advances toward effective global governance of artificial intelligence will be accompanied by concrete progress within the international community toward creating a broader international environment conducive to artificial intelligence becoming the crucial agent for progress and change that it can be.
Let me stop here and introduce our distinguished speakers. Let me begin with Ms. Belinda Biscoe, Senior Associate and Vice President of the University of Oklahoma. Ms. Biscoe is a psychologist, but also an accomplished educator and a strong advocate for civic engagement. I'm sure she will have important insights to contribute to this meeting.”

The FINAL DECLARATION of the 23rd Infopoverty World Conference is now available! The Plan of Action including a list of projects and proposals that emerged from the discussion will be available soon. STAY TUNED!

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