A report has been published recently advocating the global governance of Artificial Intelligence. That provokes two questions:
Should the governance of AI be global?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has immense value to offer to humanity, such as improved efficiency, new capabilities, and solutions to complex problems. A fast-growing AI industry is developing, applying AI to every sector of our economy. AI is often able to reduce costs, render a service more effective or produce a design more quickly. As its capabilities continue to grow, it may prove as transformative as the proliferation of electrification and cheap motive power was in the 20th century, ushering in an era of abundance, longer and healthier lives and a greater realisation of human rights.
However, AI also brings new problems and threats. This will necessitate the creation of governing institutions, as the impact of AI will be experienced in every country in the world. Governance needs to be effective, timely and global. As in many fields of human endeavour, issues that are not bounded by geography or jurisdiction require global responses.
Looking a bit further into the future there are a number of risks that could be posed by an ever expanding, ever more intelligent AI which could define the future of humanity. It is inconceivable that this technology, with such tremendous transformative power for good and ill should not be governed globally.
In the polls carried out at the recent international Athens Round-table on AI and the Rule of Law, it was clear that the relatively expert audience thought that the governance of AI should be global. There is a need for a more informed debate on the subject, so that the wider public can be made aware of the issues at stake.
Is that where we are heading?
In 1889, there was a land rush in Oklahoma: at mid-day on April 22nd, some 10,000 covered wagons were lined up to race across the prairie to claim as much as they could of the virgin territory. In the race to claim the governance of AI leadership, there are not 10,000 international organisations competing, but under starter’s orders there are clearly the Council of Europe and its Ad Hoc Committee on Artificial Intelligence (CAHAI), the European Union and UNESCO - with the OECD, the Global Partnership for Artificial Intelligence (GPAI) and the IEEE close behind.
The covered wagons were all present at the Athens Roundtable: their spokes-persons stressed their close collaboration with each other, but each of the main contenders made sure that they seized the opportunity to make a strong pitch for their own organisation’s approach.
Each one has something tangible and distinctive to offer. For instance:
At the Athens Round-Table, notable by its absence was China. Speakers acknowledged the strong position that China holds within the AI arena and clearly any meaningful global governance would require China’s close involvement.
A key question is which of these contenders offers the best path to an effective and timely global governance of AI? There is no simple answer to that question. But there is another question. Is there another, better way?
The next few months
Key decisions are due to be made in the coming months with regard to AI regulation. On December 15th / 17th, representatives of the forty-seven Council of Europe States along with their fellow CAHAI members will review the feasibility study and decide how to proceed. In the first quarter of 2021, we are told to expect EU legislation on AI on the table for consideration by the European Parliament.
No easy solutions, but is it not time to agree that the goal should be global governance of AI – and the sooner the better? Do the contenders all support the aim of effective and timely global governance for AI? Will the decisions made in December 2020 and Q1 2021 be made with a framework of achieving effective global governance of AI as quickly as possible?
A fuller discussion of the arguments for the global governance on AI, together with a proposed roadmap of how to get there, is available in the WFM / OWT report.
 Effective, Timely and Global – the urgent need for good Global Governance of AI produced by the Transnational Working Group on AI of the World Federalist Movement (WFM), and the One World Trust (OWT).
The most realistic, detailed, and widely supported proposal for creating more effective and accountable global governance.
You can see in the history section of this website that the One World Trust was founded in 1951 by cross-party Members of Parliament who believed global governance can be improved to better protect the interests of all humanity as well as our environment.
Today, with the coronavirus pandemic raging, and an environmental crisis looming, this is truer than ever. It is for this reason that the One World Trust has decided to bring the world’s leading campaign for creating more effective and accountable global governance to the UK for the first time.
The campaign for a United nations Parliamentary Assembly (UNPA) recommends the gradual implementation of democratic participation and representation on the global level, starting with the establishment of a consultative Parliamentary Assembly at the United Nations. This campaign has been running internationally since 2007 and has won the support of:
Such widespread and expert support is not won without a detailed and realistic proposal, refined through ongoing critical appraisal. More detail can be found on the UN Parliamentary Assembly page of this website, the UNPA website, and this book.
The UK campaign plan is to explain and promote the UNPA proposal to the public, media, NGOs and MPs, and to provide education through an online course and the running of a model UNPA (like a model UN). If you are able contribute time or funds to help bring this vibrant international campaign to the UK for the first time, please email email@example.com. Any donations received by the end of this year, up to a total of £65,000, will be match funded, doubling any contribution you make.
A policy instrument to create a world that works for everyone
Grand plans don’t need big bangs
Often we only notice things when they go wrong, such as a crisis, disaster or illness. Then we take urgent action to fix the problem and prevent it happening again. If we are clever, determined and lucky, it works. Things get better. But success can breed complacency. We may fail to deal with new problems properly until things suddenly spiral out of control and it’s too late to avert a catastrophe, as with the two world wars.
Global agreement to tackle global problems is a slow process, easily delayed by a few nations, particularly if they are large and powerful. But we don’t need to wait for complete agreement to solve problems. The best way to improve global governance is to recognise and improve the way it happens now.
We propose that coalitions of the willing can take Accelerate Global Action to make rapid progress on critical issues, within a framework of principles to prevent mistakes like the 2003 Iraq war.
At a global level we face critical risks now and increasingly in the future which could tip humanity into an existential crisis, such as runaway climate change, collapse of biodiversity, nuclear warfare, pandemic disease or the possible loss of control to a future AI. Unsustainable consumption, population growth, conflict in the Middle East or central Africa, trade wars or the fragmentation of global governance could also trigger a catastrophic chain reaction.
Our governments have learnt from past catastrophes. Since World War II, humanity has dramatically improved political systems and technology to make most peoples’ lives safer, longer and often happier. World population has grown by over a fifth since 2000, more than 1.4 billion people, without serious incident. Almost a billion people have been lifted out of absolute poverty. Contagious diseases are contained. Average global life expectancy is up, from 60 in 1960 to 72 years. Peaceful travel and trade have increased dramatically. The Iraq war was a disastrous mistake and too many people suffer from conflict, but fewer people are killed in war and natural disasters. The 2007/8 financial crash was more severe than in 1929, but lessons from the past meant its consequences were less savage, although mistakes were made and many still suffer as a result.
Global governance is fragmented and fragile
Our current system of global governance is highly sophisticated, involving more than seven thousand international agencies (note 1). They are not centralised or controlled by a single executive, but thousands of bodies accountable to myriad government departments, businesses and civil society groups as well as the UN. This system of global governance is complicated, uncoordinated and expensive. It struggles to cope with countless challenges and potentially catastrophic or existential risks (2, 3, 4, 5). We cannot afford to wait for everyone to agree to bring about major reforms.
Many sensible world leaders know about the problems but, as Jean Claude Junker said about economic reform in 2007, “We all know what to do, we just don't know how to get re-elected after we've done it”.
There is no shortage of ideas about how to run the world better, but little prospect that they will be adopted, except perhaps after another major catastrophe . In 2016 the Global Challenges Foundation (GCF) launched a Global Governance Prize for “a governance model able to effectively address the most pressing threats and risks to humanity.” It attracted 2,702 entries from 122 countries, drew up a long list of 14 and awarded $600,000 to each of the three winners. They join a growing library of reform proposals, including the Independent Commission on Multilateralism, The Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies, the 1995 Commission on Global Governance, Our Global Neighbourhood, and many, many more.
However good these ideas, they will struggle to get a hearing from governments, let alone action. The inherent tensions between national sovereignty and global governance makes it difficult for governments to commit time and money to large scale reforms. Powerful countries which benefit from the current system want to keep their privileges, while countries which suffer don’t have the power to act.
Governments act on global issues in broadly three main circumstances:
The first is impossible. A big bang wake-up call would be too late, since an extreme environmental, nuclear war or other existential crisis could spread too fast to be contained. It is tempting to hope world leaders could recognise the benefits of reform to avert an existential crisis and work together to create a better system without a crisis. But they won’t. They have too many domestic problems and it is easier to blame others than to work together to solve global problems.
But the second two routes to reform - concerted action by a coalition of the willing in response to a threat or common problem – has already transformed global governance. Although “coalition of the willing” got a bad name in the illegal Iraq war of 2003, it is the main way in which global governance is reformed. The UN system itself was initiated by a coalition of just 26 nation states in 1942 and founded by a mere 51 nations.
How reform really happens
We don’t need to wait for consensus or a crisis to bring about radical reforms. All changes in global governance were pioneered by independent actors or small groups of states and agencies responding to need – such as the Red Cross (1863), the Bank of International Settlements (1930), the UN (1945) and Sustainable Development Goals (2015).
Many initiatives have made progress on difficult issues over the past century through concerted action by relatively small groups taking the initiative, including coalitions of civil society (Jubilee 2000, Landmines ban); corporate initiatives and codes of conduct such as the Sullivan Principles for South Africa; special Rapporteurs of the Secretary General; High Level Panels (HLPs); open working groups; “coalitions of the willing”; Contact Groups of states and agencies; and Track 2, and ‘Citizen diplomacy’.
More recently innovative deliberative processes, crowdsourcing and social media have engaged
diverse stakeholders in creating solutions and building consensus for change, such as the Sustainable Development Goals.
Initiatives like these should be recognised as the main way in which global governance develops, perhaps under the title of Accelerated Global Actions, with a framework of principles and flexible guidelines as outlined below.
Accelerated Global Action (AGA)
Global decision-making can harness initiatives for change by providing recognition, support and guidelines to build consent and ensure legitimacy for Accelerated Global Action. Any agency, state or even individual may initiate action to tackle a critical issue, often in the face of opposition, such as the campaigns on apartheid, climate change, landmines or smoking. Over time, they gain support and lead to changes in international policy or law. To ensure that they are legitimate as well as effective, it is worth drawing up principles and guidelines along the following lines.
Initiatives to tackle global issues should be transparent; consider evidence from all sides and impartial sources; seek to build trust and mutual understanding; be solution-focused, seeking mutual benefit and win-win solutions; keep stakeholders informed and engaged; and uphold the principles of the United Nations, human rights and the rule of law.
To make the most of global initiatives, we propose that:
First, the UN Department of Public Information (DPI) keeps a public register of initiatives by topic and keep the UN Secretary General (UNSG), GA and member governments informed.
Second, the UNSG, GA and other UN bodies has both the right of initiative and the authority to support
accelerated global action on critical issues in their area of competence.
Finally, initiatives should work towards a global consensus on priorities and a plan of action and aim to be endorsed by a recognised world conference or resolution of the UN General Assembly.
By supporting Accelerated Global Actions, the international community can harness people’s commitment to solve problems better and faster.
Priorities for Accelerated Global Action
Accelerated Global Actions in the following twelve areas can build on existing initiatives to create an equitable and effective system of global governance:
The first three areas aim to create the global consciousness, understanding and capabilities essential for effective global cooperation and decision-making, so it is worth outlining what Accelerated Global Action would mean in these areas (see A World that Works for Everyone for more detail).
Conclusion: making global governance work for all
The best way to bring about change and fulfil the ambitious vision of the Global Governance Prize is not to draft blue prints and try to persuade politicians to back them, but to seek “gateway reforms” in response to a threat or common problem and build a determined coalition to solve the problem, as for the Law of the Sea, Montreal Protocol, Landmines Convention, International Criminal Court, and climate change.
The first gateway reform is to get UN recognition for Accelerated Global Action (AGA) as a legitimate and effective way of making progress, by bringing the proposed Guidelines and Principles to the UN General Assembly.
At the same time, we need to encourage people to continue their own Accelerated Global Actions in the following priority areas:
These four areas are fundamental, because all humanity needs to understand how deeply connected we are, through our shared air, earth and water. Communications, education, finance, trade and shared decision-making through global institutions have a direct impact on our everyday lives, whether in Afghanistan, Beijing, Iowa, or Zimbabwe.
By taking Accelerated Global Action on critical issues, humanity can usher in a new era for humanity, to create a world that works for everyone.
UIA (annual) Yearbook of International Organizations, Union of International Associations, Brussels, http: //www.uia.org;Hurd, Ian (2010), International Organizations: Politics, Law, Practice, Cambridge University Press;
Rittberger, V., Zangl, B. and Kruck, A. (2012) International Organization, 2nd ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave.