The G20 must set up an international body on technological change

The release of ChatGPT has exposed many people to dramatic technological developments, particularly artificial intelligence (AI), that have troubled experts for almost a decade. Many people are concerned about the impact of AI on their livelihoods and those of the next generation, and experts debate whether scenarios in which we inadvertently create superintelligence are still too far-fetched to be taken seriously. Sure, the term “artificial general intelligence” for machines that will be able to solve most of the problems that most of us can solve is now widely used in professional circles.

The release of ChatGPT has exposed many people to dramatic technological developments, particularly artificial intelligence (AI), that have troubled experts for nearly a decade (Shutterstock) {{^userSubscribed}} {{/userSubscribed}} {{^userSubscribed}} { {/userSubscribed}}

However, a smaller number of people understand that developments in biology, although progressing much more slowly, can also disrupt social order tremendously. These technologies include embryo selection and various levels of germline editing enabled by Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) and related technologies.

A general view of these developments is that the human equilibrium – in which cultural evolution was the dominant driver of change – is coming to an end and that hardware evolution, either outside of us or within us, is now a major force in human affairs will be. Exactly where that ends is in our hands as a species. The need of the hour is certainty that the interests of the species do indeed come first and that normal human political, economic and social processes will not lead to grossly sub-optimal outcomes. Currently, technological developments are happening in line with business as usual – full-blown warfare, growing rivalry between the superpowers, and a highly competitive market for tech companies.

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To this end, we would like to propose a first step to solve the underlying coordination problem. Following the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), created to provide policymakers with regular scientific assessments of the climate crisis, its impacts and potential future risks, we propose the establishment of an International Panel on Technological Change (IPTC). The mandate of the panel is to assess where we are in relation to “posthuman technology” and where we are headed in the future. Unlike the IPCC, which deals with much longer timescales, the IPTC has to work much faster and more skilfully. It seems to us that the G20 is the right organizational size to set up such a body and enable it to function.

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We propose to do this quickly so that the first fruits of such a process can be available within a year from the hands of a relatively small high-level group able to attract the best minds from around the world to the most pressing technological issues. Thereafter, the process should continue with continuous updating and a broader focus – laying a foundation for potential international agreements to prevent dangerous security competitions, social and economic disruption, and certainly a rapid and uncontrolled transition beyond human design power. We believe this rise of posthuman technology is a moment of extraordinary promise, but also of extraordinary danger. We call on the leaders of the G20 to rise to the occasion.

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Martin Rees is an Astronomer Royal, past President of the Royal Society and a member of the House of Lords. Shivaji Sondhi is Wykeham Professor of Physics at Oxford and Professor Emeritus at Princeton, K Vijay Raghavan is a former Chief Scientific Advisor to the Government of India. The views expressed are personal

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