AI Forums Guide

An overview of the key global forums where AI is on the agenda.

Council of Europe

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Description of forum

The Council of Europe is a continental intergovernmental organisation comprising 47 member states, and focused on promoting human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe. The Council’s two most important bodies are the Committee of Ministers, comprising the Foreign Ministers of each member state, and the Parliamentary Assembly, composed of members of the national parliaments of each member state. The Commissioner for Human Rights is an independent institution within the Council of Europe, mandated to promote awareness of and respect for human rights in the member states.

Relevance for AI

The Council of Europe is actively working on AI through a number of ongoing initiatives. Most notably, the Ad Hoc Committee on Artificial Intelligence (CAHAI) was established within the Council of Europe in 2019 with a mandate to examine the feasibility and potential elements of a legal framework for the development, design and application of artificial intelligence, based on Council of Europe’s standards on human rights, democracy and the rule of law. While recommendations and other outputs adopted by the Council of Europe are not binding on member states, they tend to be highly influential – any legal instrument developed by the CoE is likely to be adopted by many member states, and other outputs such as recommendations issued by the Committee of Ministers will inform policy at the national level.

Opportunities to engage

CAHAI has agreed to undertake multistakeholder consultations on the proposed legal instrument in early 2021. There would also be opportunities for informal engagement with CAHAI members.

Existing outputs

The Council of Europe has published a number of instruments, including declarations, guidelines and recommendations, relating to AI, which can be found here. These include:

  • Declaration by the Committee of Ministers on the risks of computer-assisted or artificial-intelligence-enabled decision making in the field of the social safety net Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers to member States on the human rights impacts of algorithmic systems;
  • Guidelines on Artificial Intelligence and Data Protection;
  • European Ethical Charter on the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in judicial systems and their environment;
  • Guidelines on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of data in a world of Big Data.

Important dates

21 May 2021: CAHAI conference/dedicated event on the multi-stakeholder consultation

Full list of events here.

European Union

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Description of forum

The European Union (EU) is a political and economic union of 27 member states. The EU aims to ensure the free movement of people, goods, services and capital within its internal market; enact legislation in justice and home affairs; and maintain common policies on trade, agriculture, development and other policy areas. Its institutions include, the European Parliament, which represents the EU’s citizens and is directly elected by them; the European Council, which consists of the heads of state or government of the EU member states; and the European Commission, with members nominated by the member states.

Relevance for AI

The EU has identified AI as an area of strategic importance and believes that member states and the Commission must work together to stay at the forefront of this technology. Its approach is set out in the Commissions’s AI Strategy, which includes plans to propose a horizontal regulatory proposal in 2021.This proposal will have broad impacts within EU member states and may potentially be influential across the world.

Opportunities to engage

The European Commission published a White Paper on Artificial Intelligence in February 2020, which was developed through an open consultation and over 1200 submissions were received. This document served as an important milestone in the Commission’s AI Strategy, which includes formal opportunities for civil society engagement. This would suggest that any effort to develop a horizontal regulatory proposal in 2021, or future proposals, will also involve further consultation with civil society organisations. There are established avenues for stakeholders to provide input to AI policy through ad hoc consultations and online discussions in the European AI Alliance, a multistakeholder forum for discussing AI policy.

Existing outputs

Important dates

  • First quarter 2021: Legislative proposal on AI

Global Partnership on AI

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Description of forum

The Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI) is a multistakeholder initiative which aims to bridge the gap between theory and practice on AI by supporting cutting-edge research and applied activities on AI-related priorities. It aims to provide a mechanism for sharing multidisciplinary research and identifying key issues among AI practitioners, with the objective of facilitating international collaboration, reducing duplication, acting as a global reference point for specific AI issues, and ultimately promoting trust in and the adoption of trustworthy AI.

Relevance for AI

As an expertise-based initiative, GPAI will undertake projects on specific AI issues in order to: support and guide the responsible development, use and adoption of AI that is human-centric and grounded in human rights, inclusion, diversity and innovation, while encouraging sustainable economic growth; facilitate international collaboration in a multistakeholder manner; and monitor and draw on work being done domestically and internationally to identify knowledge gaps, maximise coordination, and facilitate international collaboration on AI. This collaboration will take place across four working groups, including one on responsible AI. The outputs of GPAI will not be binding on states but will be influential.

Opportunities to engage

While the working groups of the GPAI have already been set up, they are a potential area for engagement, in addition to ad-hoc consultations or attendance at events such as the annual summit. Experts are selected as individuals and do not represent their organisation or country. Experts must be nominated by GPAI members to participate in GPAI’s working groups for a renewable term of 1-2 years.

Existing outputs

Important dates

  • 2021 (TBD): Annual summit

International Telecommunications Union

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Description of forum

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is a specialised agency of the United Nations focusing on telecommunications. The ITU has three main areas of activity that are organised in Sectors: radiocommunications (R-Sector), telecommunications standardisation (T-Sector) and development (D-Sector). The most important event at the ITU is the Plenipotentiary Conference, which is the main decision making body of the ITU and composed of all 193 ITU Member. It determines the policies, direction and activities of the ITU and meets every four years. The ITU Council acts as the governing body between Plenipotentiary Conferences and meet every year to consider policy issues and the operations of the ITU. The ITU is further composed of a Secretariat, which is headed by a Secretary-General. Standards developed by the ITU and its Study Groups are entirely voluntary, but they are influential and often adopted by states, particularly those with fewer resources or capacity at the national level.

Relevance for AI

AI is not a standalone item on the ITU’s agenda, but there are continued proposals by member states for AI to be an area where the ITU and its Study Groups develop standards. These proposals are likely to appear at forthcoming conferences: the World Telecommunication Development Conference (the D-Sector’s conference) in November 2021, the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (the T-Sector’s conference) in March 2022 and the Plenipotentiary Conference in September 2022. Separately, work relating to AI periodically appears on the agenda of the existing Study groups in the context of existing work. Finally, AI may arise as an issue at the World Telecommunication/ICT Policy Forum, hosted by the ITU, in December 2021.

Opportunities to engage

While civil society organisations are able to join as members of the ITU, the costs involves are significant. Non-members of the ITU are limited in their ability to participate in its work and there are only a limited number of NGOs currently engaged. Opportunities for civil society engagement mainly exist through joining or seeking to influence national delegations to ITU conferences, where this is possible.

Existing outputs

n/a

Important dates

  • November 2021: World Telecommunication Development Conference
  • December 2021: World Telecommunication/ICT Policy Forum
  • March 2022: World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly
  • March/April 2022: ITU Council September/October 2022: Plenipotentiary Conference

UN General Assembly (Third Committee)

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Description of forum

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), based in New York, is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations, and the only one in which all members have equal representation. It is the main deliberative, policymaking, and representative organ of the UN. The UNGA, which is composed of six separate committees, works on a wide array of international issues covered by the Charter of the United Nations. The Third Committee deals with social, humanitarian and human rights issues, and proposes Resolutions on these issues which are then put forward to the UNGA.

Relevance for AI

The issue of AI appears on the Third Committee’s agenda periodically, although rarely as a standalone item. The most relevant Resolution is on the right to privacy in the digital age, which is reviewed every two years and will next be considered at some point until 2022. UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolutions are generally non-binding towards member states, but are influential on global policy, particularly when adopted by consensus. They set expected standards for state behaviour, and even offer concrete recommendations for national policy measures.

Opportunities to engage

The UNGA begins every September for regular sessions and may meet at other points throughout the year for special sessions or emergency special sessions. Resolutions at the UNGA usually require a simple majority vote to pass. While the opportunities for direct engagement with the UNGA are limited, it is nonetheless an important space for organisations wishing to press the UN and member states to address specific issues. For example, Resolutions at the Third Committee start off as drafts sponsored by one or more lead states. These states are sometimes referred to colloquially as the ‘pen holders’. In many cases, lead states (or main sponsors) are traditionally identified with the issue addressed in a resolution. Lead sponsors of draft resolutions generally begin preparing their texts and building support several months ahead of the Third Committee session. As part of that process, some States will seek to engage with a range of stakeholders, including potential co-sponsoring states, NGOs, etc. The following months could present an opportunity to directly engage with relevant States.

Existing outputs

Important dates

  • Autumn 2021: 76th session

UN Human Rights Council

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Description of forum

The Human Rights Council (HRC) is an intergovernmental body within the United Nations system responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and for addressing situations of human rights violations and make recommendations on them. It has the ability to discuss all thematic human rights issues and situations that require its attention throughout the year. It meets at the UN Office at Geneva.

Relevance for AI

The issue of AI appears on the HRCs agenda periodically, although rarely as a standalone item. It may appear in Resolutions which are likely to be adopted in 2021, particularly the Resolution on new and emerging digital technologies and human rights (potentially under consideration in July 2021) and the Resolution on the right to privacy in the digital age (potentially under consideration in September 2021). Resolutions are not binding on states, but they are influential.

Opportunities to engage

The HRC meets three times a year in regular sessions, usually March, June and September. It can meet for special sessions if a request is made by one third of its members; and it occasionally hosts intersessional panels, which look at particular thematic issues. Those organisations which have consultative status at the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) are able to participate in person, hold side events, submit written contributions and make statements to the HRC. But even without this status, there are opportunities for informal engagement. The drafting of the resolutions is often undertaken informally by the member states concerned, providing other actors – including civil society organisations – an opportunity to provide comments through informal contact. Civil society may influence the draft text of upcoming resolutions by engaging proactively and directly with those interested states – either through their permanent missions at the UN in Geneva, or in their capitals, as the draft text of the resolutions is discussed informally by those states before being presented to the HRC session. The earlier you can start engagement, the better. Once a draft resolution is being discussed informally, try to obtain a copy of the draft form the mission so that you can provide more detailed comments and feedback, including revisions to the text.

Existing outputs

Important dates

  • 21 June 2021—9 July 2021: 47th regular session
  • 13 September 2021—1 October 2021: 48th regular session

UN Secretary General's Roadmap for Digital Cooperation

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Description of forum

The UN Secretary General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation was set out in a June 2020 report, which is based on recommendations from the Secretary-General’s High-level Panel for Digital Cooperation convened from 2018-2019, and further informed by a series of roundtable discussions with key stakeholders from governments, the private sector, civil society, international organizations, academic institutions, the technical community, and other relevant stakeholders. The action-oriented Roadmap presents the Secretary-General’s recommendations for concrete action by diverse stakeholders that would enhance global digital cooperation in a number of areas, and proposes next steps to accomplish these recommendations.

Relevance for AI

The Roadmap for Digital Cooperation identifies AI as one area for key action. Action Point 6 highlights how AI brings enormous benefits to the digital era, but may also significantly compromise the safety and agency of users worldwide. The Roadmap provides that the Secretary General intends to establish a multistakeholder advisory body on global AI cooperation to provide guidance to the Secretary General and the international community on AI that is trustworthy, human-rights based, safe and sustainable and promotes peace. The advisory body will comprise member states, relevant United Nations entities, interested companies, academic institutions and civil society groups.

Opportunities to engage

While it is unclear whether engagement with this advisory group will be open to all civil society organisations, the multistakeholder approach taken in the development of the Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, including the roundtables and consultations to follow-up the High-level Panel’s 2019 Report, suggests that opportunities for formal engagement may exist.

Existing outputs

Important dates

n/a

UNESCO

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Description of forum

UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) is a UN Specialised Agency which seeks to build peace through international cooperation in education, the sciences and culture. UNESCO’s programmes contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals defined in Agenda 2030, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015. Based in Paris, France, UNESCO comprises 193 member states and 11 associate members, as well as partners in the nongovernmental, intergovernmental, and private sector.

Relevance for AI

UNESCO has a number of projects and initiatives on AI, most significantly a two-year process to elaborate the first global standard-setting instrument on the ethics of AI in the form of a Recommendation, which will be adopted at its General Conference at the end of 2021. This Recommendation would be voluntary but influential.

Opportunities to engage

Many UNESCO initiatives are multi-stakeholder, but the consultation period on the draft Recommendation has already closed so formal mechanisms for engagement are no longer available. However, the final report will contain one or more draft texts for the Recommendation. This will be communicated to states and submitted to a special committee that will examine the draft Recommendation between April and June 2021. There may be an opportunity for informal engagement with this group depending on its membership.

Existing outputs

Important dates

  • April and June 2021: A draft of the final report will be submitted to a special committee of governmental experts to be convened in 2021.
  • End of 2021: The special committee will decide on the final draft of the Recommendation, which will then be submitted to UNESCO’s General Conference.