Safe and Beneficial Artificial Intelligence for Small-Island Developing States

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Artificial Intelligence (AI) is set to revolutionize our world. As noted by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in his remarks to the UN Security Council on 18 July 2023, “The spread and reach of this new technology in all its forms are utterly unprecedented (…) It is clear that AI will have an impact on every area of our lives - including the three pillars of the United Nations. It has the potential to turbocharge global development, from monitoring the climate crisis to breakthroughs in medical research (…) But even its own designers have no idea where their stunning technological breakthrough may lead.” With the rapid pace of AI’s development and the uncertainty of how the technology will evolve, the establishment of effective governance structures for AI is an urgent priority. 

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Even countries that are not hubs for AI development will very quickly begin to feel AI’s impacts due to how fast the technology can be deployed. ChatGPT, for example, was released by the US-based laboratory OpenAI in November 2022 and reached 1 million users in 5 days and 100 million users in 2 months, making it the fastest growing internet application ever. It is now available in 161 countries. Governments and organizations around the world are therefore hurriedly working on AI strategies and the international community is starting to come together in various fora to discuss the best course of action to establish AI governance mechanisms. 

Given that the impacts of AI will affect all countries, the processes to establish these mechanisms must be inclusive if their outcomes are to be effective. Low and middle-income countries (LMICs), especially, must actively participate in the development of AI governance to ensure that the unique challenges they face are accounted for, that they will be able to equitably benefit from AI technologies, and to guard against the potential for growing inequalities and unevenly distributed risks. Within this category of LMICs, the group of Small-Island Developing States (SIDS) should have a particular interest because of how much they stand to gain from well-governed deployment of AI; because of their unique vulnerabilities to AI’s harms and risks; and not least because of the power of their unified collective voice on the international stage. 

The group of SIDS has been working together to promote their collective sustainable development for nearly 30 years. These efforts began in 1994, when the first UN Global Conference on Sustainable Development of SIDS in Barbados led to the adoption of the Barbados programme of action (BPOA), a 14-point plan addressing their specific challenges. This was followed by the 2005 adoption of the Mauritius Strategy (MSI) to further implement the BPOA, and continued with the 2014 adoption of the the Small Island Developing States Accelerated Modalities of Action (SAMOA Pathway), which reaffirmed SIDS’ unique vulnerabilities and outlined their updated sustainable development priorities.

Continuing the 10-year cycle of SIDS international development conferences, world leaders will convene in Antigua & Barbuda in 2024 to agree on a bold new program of action that will set the development priorities for SIDS for the coming decade. This presents SIDS with a golden opportunity to define their AI-related priorities and at the same time provide a unified and powerful voice from LMICs, taking a leading role in multilateral AI governance debates to ensure that AI is governed in an inclusive manner.

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