Former UN head Ban urges countries to address AI’s potential catastrophic risk

Former UN head Ban urges countries to address AI’s potential catastrophic risk
Former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is delivering his keynote speech at the third World Emerging Security Forum (WESF) on December 5. Photo by Kuksung Nam, The Readable

By Kuksung Nam, The Readable
Dec. 5, 2023 7:40PM GMT+9 Updated Dec. 7, 2023 5:25PM GMT+9

Former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concerns on Tuesday about the perils posed by unregulated artificial intelligence technology, stating that the risks are too great to allow the technology to proliferate unchecked and uncontrolled.

“Experts are continually sounding alarms, stressing that without proper oversight and international regulations, AI could unleash catastrophes that will rival nuclear war, pandemics, and the accelerating climate crisis,” stressed Ban during his keynote speech at the third World Emerging Security Forum (WESF) held in Seoul, South Korea. “We must unite to harness the full potential of AI technology while simultaneously safeguarding ourselves against its potential threats and risks.”

In May of this year, the Center for AI Safety issued a one-sentence warning on cutting-edge AI technology. The non-profit organization urged that the potential risk posed by AI should be considered a global priority with the same level of severity as global pandemics and nuclear war. More than 650 leading figures in the science and technology industry openly signed the statement, including Geoffrey Hinton, a computer scientist widely considered to be the “godfather” of AI, and the three chief executives from the leading AI companies: OpenAI, DeepMind, and Anthropic.

As a means to mitigate the risks accompanying AI, Ban stressed the importance of building stronger international governance. Ban, who is also the deputy chair of The Elders, a global organization founded by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nelson Mandela, mentioned the efforts that the global community took to secure peace from the threat posed by nuclear weapons, such as the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Building on such previous accomplishments, the deputy chair called for robust guardrails to be put in place to ensure that AI conforms to international norms and human rights treaties.

Richard Fontaine, the CEO of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), is delivering a welcoming remark at the third World Emerging Security Forum (WESF) on December 5. Photo by Kuksung Nam, The Readable

Furthermore, Richard Fontaine, the CEO of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), emphasized the dangers of emerging AI technologies. The CNAS co-hosted the WESF with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST).

The chief executive noted that AI technologies pose a threat to democracy, as attackers could use AI powered tools to interfere with elections by manufacturing AI-generated audio and video content, also known as “deep fakes.” He also noted the challenges that accompany implementing AI for military purposes to enhance weapons systems. “AI will play a new and potentially destabilizing role in information security and military technology,” said Fontaine. “AI safety and stability remain a major challenge. (…) These challenges are global in scope and require a coordinated international response.”

nam@thereadable.co

This article was copyedited by Arthur Gregory Willers.

Notification: A typo in the third paragraph has been fixed from “the three chef executives from the leading AI companies,” written in the previous article, to “the three chief executives from the leading AI companies.”


Kuksung Nam is a journalist for The Readable. She has extensively traversed the globe to cover the latest stories on the cyber threat landscape and has been producing in-depth stories on security and privacy by engaging with industry giants, foreign government officials and experts. Before joining The Readable, Kuksung reported on politics for one of South Korea’s top-five local newspapers, The Kyeongin Ilbo. Her journalistic skills and reportage earned her the coveted Journalists Association of Korea award in 2021 for her essay detailing exclusive stories about the misconduct of a former government official. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in French from Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, a testament to her linguistic capabilities.