United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has called for restraint by big tech firms in their development of AI during a special address at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

On Wednesday (Jan.17), Guterres warned that unrestricted development of generative AI could result in “serious unintended consequences,” and condemned companies for “pursuing profits with a clear disregard for human rights.”

“I believe this crisis is the direct result of a paradox facing our world. In the face of [a] series of existential threats, posed by runaway climate chaos and the runaway development of artificial intelligence without guardrails, we seem powerless to act together,” Guterres said.

Rebuilding Trust” is the theme of the World Economic Forum’s 2024 annual meeting, which plans to address “increasing division, heightened hostility and a surge in conflicts are defining the current global landscape.” The three major topics to be discussed include reinvigorating a stagnant economy amidst debt and inflation, the climate crisis, and the “disruptive forces” of artificial intelligence.

What did UN chief Guterres say about AI?

“Every new interaction of generative AI increases the risk of serious unintended consequences. The technology has enormous potential for sustainable development, but as the International Monetary Fund has just warned us, it is very likely it will worsen inequality in the world,” Guterres added.

He continued, “These two issues, climate and AI, are exhaustively discussed by governments, by the media and by leaders here in Davos. And yet, we have not an effective global strategy to deal with either.

“The reason is simple, geopolitical divides are preventing us from coming together around global solutions for global challenges. Little wonder that people everywhere are losing face in governments, institutions and financial and economic systems.”

What have tech companies said?

On Tuesday, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella supported the idea for standards and guardrails for the technology, adding that there is a need for global coordination on AI. The tech giant reportedly has in total committed up to $13bn to OpenAI, including a $10bn expansion announced in January 2022.

However, the EU has raised antitrust concerns and is investigating whether the merger is allowed. “The European Commission is checking whether Microsoft’s investment in OpenAI might be reviewable under the EU Merger Regulation,” the commission said in a statement on January 9.

The IMF warned that AI will affect almost 40% of jobs around the world, replacing some while complementing others, potentially worsening inequality. It also suggested that “advanced economies face greater risks from AI—but also more opportunities to leverage its benefits—compared with emerging market and developing economies.”

The world’s richest man, Elon Musk, reiterated this possibility at a conference in November “There will come a point where no job is needed.”

“You can have a job if you want to have a job for personal satisfaction but no job is needed, the AI will be able to do everything,” the 52-year-old billionaire said.

Featured Image: Canva / World Economic Forum / European Parliament

Suswati Basu

Freelance journalist

Suswati Basu is a multilingual, award-winning editor and the founder of the intersectional literature channel, How To Be Books. She was shortlisted for the Guardian Mary Stott Prize and longlisted for the Guardian International Development Journalism Award. With 18 years of experience in the media industry, Suswati has held significant roles such as head of audience and deputy editor for NationalWorld news, digital editor for Channel 4 News and ITV News. She has also contributed to the Guardian and received training at the BBC As an audience, trends, and SEO specialist, she has participated in panel events alongside Google. Her career also includes a seven-year tenure at the leading AI company Dataminr, where she led the Europe desk and launched the company's first employee resource group for disabilities. Before this, Suswati worked as a journalist in China for four years, investigating censorship and the Great Firewall, and acquired proficiency in several languages. In recent years, Suswati has been nominated for six awards, including the Independent Podcast Awards, International Women's Podcast Awards, and the Anthem Awards for her literary social affairs show. Her areas of speciality span a wide range, including technology, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), social politics, mental health, and nonfiction books.