MIL-OSI United Nations: Secretary-General’s remarks to the Council of the International Telecommunication Union [bilingual, as delivered]

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Source: United Nations secretary general

Madame la Secrétaire générale, chère Doreen Bogdan-Martin,

Excellences, Mesdames et Messieurs,

C’est un grand plaisir de m’adresser au Conseil de l’Union Internationale des Télécommunications.

En tant qu’ingénieur – et c’est vrai que pendant deux années, j’ai enseigné précisément les télécommunications dans mon université -, j’ai toujours eu un profond respect et une grande admiration pour le travail de l’UIT.

Vos contributions sont vastes et vitales :

De l’établissement de normes mondiales à la coordination des fréquences de communication par satellite…

De l’expansion de la connectivité à la promotion des compétences numériques…

Du soutien à l’inclusion financière numérique à la lutte contre l’exploitation des enfants en ligne.

Et votre ordre du jour illustre les nombreux défis qui nous attendent.

Excellencies, dear friends,

Digital technologies are reshaping every facet of our lives.

But they are also exposing deep inequalities – both within and between countries.

For many, the digital promise is still a virtual dream.

Today, nearly one-third of the world’s population remains unconnected, locked out of the digital revolution.

The digital divide is depriving billions of people of opportunities.

Of education… healthcare… job opportunities… the tools to build a better life.

Bridging that divide is not only an economic necessity, but a moral and humanitarian imperative.

And fundamental for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

I commend the ITU for placing universal connectivity and sustainable digital transformation at the heart of your strategy.

That includes your Partner2 Connect coalition, which has just reached 50 billion US dollars of investment pledges towards global connectivity, and your partnership with UNICEF on the Giga initiative to connect every school to the internet.

We must intensify these and other efforts to urgently provide safe, equitable and affordable access to the Internet to all, leaving no one behind.

Dear Friends,

Artificial Intelligence is the biggest revolution since the invention of internet – perhaps since the second industrial revolution.

It can help drive sustainable development, foster social justice, and transform our lives for the better.

ITU’s AI for Good platform is a great illustration of how sharing best practices across borders and sectors can drive meaningful change.

Last month’s AI for Good Global Summit, with more than 400 projects presented by 47 UN agencies, highlights how AI can supercharge climate action, health, lifelong learning, disaster response, and many other areas – in particular in developing countries.

I urge you all to expand this essential work.

However, AI also poses extreme – and even existential – risks.

From entrenching biases to undermining trust and social cohesion, disrupting labor markets, threatening privacy and human rights…

And even jeopardizing international peace and security.

Today, it is being deployed with few guardrails and little caution.

And the pace of innovation is outpacing the capacity to regulate it.

We must join forces to ensure AI never stands for Advancing Inequality. 

Such a unique challenge requires unique solutions.

We have no time to waste. We need to break silos and be inventive.

The independent High-Level Advisory Body I established last year has identified clear priorities for action.

That starts with the creation of an International Scientific Panel on AI, which should be supported by UN agencies, namely ITU, that can provide regular and independent scientific advice – so that policymakers are better equipped to navigate this new territory. The example of the IPCC in relation to climate change shows the importance of having an independent, scientific board able to follow the developments and able to inform the global public opinion about them.

Second, we need regular policy dialogues – connecting existing public and private initiatives at every level, and I believe it would make sense to have one of these global dialogues per year, alternatively one in the UN General Assembly and one with the AI for Good Summit, linking New York and Geneva, that sometimes have a little bit of a problem of connectivity – with the objective to build on successful governance initiatives and better coordinate existing efforts.

Governments, industry, academia and civil society must develop rules and guidelines for AI safety – together, and before it is too late.

Your AI Governance Day, which brought together many conveners of other international, regional and national AI processes, together with the High-Level Advisory Body I mentioned on AI and many delegates from developing countries, shows the way.

Third, harmonizing standards will be crucial for both regulators and the industry.

Fragmentation would especially harm developing countries and small businesses.

We need interoperability and interconnectivity.

ITU provides a neutral platform for all parties to develop common technical standards and a level playing field for innovation.

Last month’s launch of a unified framework for AI standards development – by ITU and partners under the World Standards Cooperation banner – proves once again that we can continue to count on ITU’s leadership in this space.

Finally, developing countries need technical assistance and investments – in data, computing power, talent – to fully participate in and benefit from the AI revolution.

ITU’s work to build capacity in developing countries – as showcased by the AI for Good Impact Initiative – is an important part of our efforts to prevent a new AI divide that would only aggravate existing inequalities.

I also welcome the Advisory Body’s suggestion to create a United Nations AI Office that would naturally work in close cooperation with ITU in efforts to promote a coordinated, coherent and integrated global approach for all, being a small, flexible structure directly linked to me.

Dear friends,

Our world faces a digital divide, a data divide, an investment divide and a governance divide. 

We need to work together to build bridges. 

September’s Summit of the Future is one key opportunity. 

We aim to agree on a Global Digital Compact to update and upgrade digital cooperation.

And we expect that ITU’s key role in the digital space will be rightly highlighted by Member States in the Compact.

I am encouraged by the growing momentum towards an ambitious Global Digital Compact that aims to:

Connect the unconnected and put an end to digital exclusion in all its forms;

Chart a course for a safe and inclusive AI that puts people at the centre and protects human rights; and

Channel innovation to accelerate progress on the Sustainable Development Goals and protect our planet.

ITU’s technical expertise and commitment to collaboration are the very qualities our world needs as we navigate a new digital age, and your experience with the World Summit on the Information Society is a guarantee that we have the conditions to be able to move forward positively.

I count on your full support, at the Summit and beyond, to help build an open, safe, and sustainable digital future – for everyone, everywhere.

Let us seize the moment and help ensure technology is put in the service of advancing the greater good.

I thank you.
 

MIL OSI United Nations News