UN General Assembly sets international guidelines for AI

March 23, 2024

The United Nations (UN) General Assembly adopted a resolution for the “safe, secure, and trustworthy” AI systems that align with sustainable development goals. 

Supported by over 120 Member States, the draft code of conduct underscores a global commitment to integrating human rights considerations into AI’s lifecycle, from design to deployment.

The General Assembly is a key forum within the UN, bringing together all 193 Member States to debate affecting the international community. This rather informal resolution doesn’t come with a vote but is “co-sponsored” by members. 

This resolution, drafted by the US and available here, acknowledges AI’s potential to accelerate progress toward the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a series of social and economic strategies for steering the international community toward a more prosperous and stable future. 

The resolution also acknowledges the growing digital divide, with AI power siloing in Western and developed nations – particularly the US. 

It calls for international solidarity and support to empower developing countries, ensure inclusive and equitable access to technology, and thereby close the digital gap and enhance global digital literacy.

The United States National Security Advisor described the resolution as a “historic step forward” in governing AI.

In her remarks before the resolution, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US Ambassador to the UN, highlighted the collective endeavor that led to this consensus, stating, “The inclusive and constructive dialogue that led to this resolution would serve as a model for future conversations on AI challenges.” 

She explained the resolution’s role in supporting the UN’s work, including contributions from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), UNESCO, and the Human Rights Council, to create a universal approach to AI governance.

Thomas-Greenfield said the UN must “govern this technology rather than let it govern us” and be guided by “humanity and dignity, safety and security, human rights and fundamental freedoms.” 

Key points from the resolution include:

  1. International law and human rights: The resolution reaffirms the importance of the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and other international agreements and declarations.
  2. Support for sustainable development: It recognizes the potential of safe, secure, and trustworthy AI systems to accelerate progress towards achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by promoting economic, social, and environmental sustainability.
  3. Call for global cooperation: The resolution encourages Member States and other stakeholders, including the private sector and civil society, to collaborate in developing regulatory and governance frameworks for AI. 
  4. Focus on developing countries: It highlights developing nations’ challenges in keeping pace with AI. It urges increased support for these countries to ensure inclusive and equitable access to AI technologies.
  5. Human-centric AI: The resolution discusses human-centric AI systems and calls for protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms across all stages of AI systems’ lifecycle, from design to decommissioning.
  6. Inclusive and equitable AI development: The document promotes the development and deployment of AI systems in a manner that is inclusive, equitable, and beneficial for all, particularly developing countries and vulnerable populations.
  7. Data governance and cross-border flows: It recognizes the role of data in AI development and calls for robust data governance.
  8. Engagement of the private sector: The resolution encourages the private sector to adhere to international and domestic laws, including the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

This joins a growing number of international frameworks and standards calling for AI governance, most notably the EU’s AI Act.

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Sam Jeans

Sam is a science and technology writer who has worked in various AI startups. When he’s not writing, he can be found reading medical journals or digging through boxes of vinyl records.


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