Daniel Boffey in Brussels
United Nations opens new centre in Netherlands to monitor artificial intelligence and predict possible threats.
The UN has warned that robots could destabilise the world ahead of the opening of a headquarters in The Hague to monitor developments in artificial intelligence.
From the risk of mass unemployment to the deployment of autonomous robotics by criminal organisations or rogue states, the new Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics has been set the goal of second-guessing the possible threats.
It is estimated that 30% of jobs in Britain are potentially under threat from breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, according to the consultancy firm PwC. In some sectors half the jobs could go. A recent study by the International Bar Association claimed robotics could force governments to legislate for quotas of human workers.
Meanwhile nations seeking to develop autonomous weapons technology, with the capability to independently determine their courses of action without the need for human control, include the US, China, Russia and Israel.
Irakli Beridze, senior strategic adviser at the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute, said the new team based in the Netherlands would also seek to come up with ideas as to how advances in the field could be exploited to help achieve the UN’s targets. He also said there were great risks associated with developments in the technology that needed to be addressed.
“If societies do not adapt quickly enough, this can cause instability,” Beridze told the Dutch newspaper de Telegraaf. “One of our most important tasks is to set up a network of experts from business, knowledge institutes, civil society organisations and governments. We certainly do not want to plead for a ban or a brake on technologies. We will also explore how new technology can contribute to the sustainable development goals of the UN. For this we want to start concrete projects. We will not be a talking club.”
In August more than 100 robotics and artificial intelligence leaders, including the billionaire head of Tesla, Elon Musk, urged the UN to take action against the dangers of the use of artificial intelligence in weaponry, sometimes referred to as “killer robots”.
They wrote: “Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare. Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at time scales faster than humans can comprehend. These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways.”
Last year Prof Stephen Hawking warned that powerful artificial intelligence would prove to be “either the best or the worst thing ever to happen to humanity”.
An agreement was sealed with the Dutch government earlier this year for the UN office, which will have a small staff in its early stages, to be based in The Hague.
Beridze said: “Various UN organisations have projects on robotic and artificial intelligence research, such as the expert group on autonomous military robots of the convention on conventional weapons. These are temporary initiatives.
“Our centre is the first permanent UN office for this theme. We look at both the risks and the benefits.”