New Zealand

NZ researchers drive work on international AI framework

It is critical that rapidly developing technologies are subject to broad and multidimensional evaluation to maximise the benefits and minimise the very real risks

Two New Zealand researchers are leading the charge for an international policy guide and framework to evaluate AI and other new technologies.

Sir Peter Gluckman, director of think tank Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures, and Hema Sridhar, Koi Tū strategic adviser for technological futures, are the lead authors of an international report being released by the International Science Council to inform the multiple global and national discussions taking place related to AI.

The report, A guide for policy-makers: Evaluating rapidly developing technologies including AI, large language models and beyond, was launched at a reception at the New Zealand Embassy in Paris with special guest Hon. Judith Collins KC, Minister of Science, Innovation and Technology.

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The authors say it is critical that rapidly developing technologies are subject to broad and multidimensional evaluation to maximise the benefits and minimise the very real risks.

Sir Peter says the desire to regulate and govern technology is understandable. However, what needs to be considered is whether a specific technology or use be permitted and what are the risks and spillover effects.

“These questions cannot be just looked at generically but need to be looked at in specific context. For pervasive technologies such as AI, assessing the risks and benefits requires broader perspectives than just those from industry.

“A systemic framework for analysis is needed and that has been missing. The analytical framework developed in this report is not limited in its application to AI and could be applied to any rapidly emerging technology, such as gene editing or quantum,” he says.

The report groups the issues into categories including wellbeing (including that of individuals or self, society and social life, and civic life), trade and economy, environmental, geo-strategic and geo-political and technological (system characteristics, design and use).

“The conversation needs to go beyond the simplistic narrative of it will create a nirvana or destroy the world. The reality is in the history of humankind, all technologies get used. They always get used both for good purposes and bad purposes. But having this sort of framework allows us to have the discussions about how to take any new technology and make it most likely that the good and beneficial purposes will be supported and the negative will be prevented,” Sir Peter says.

Sir Peter says the definition of what a negative purpose is has changed.

“Negative used to be simply that it would produce a bomb or a weapon and kill people. Negative now means what it will do to society, what it will do to mental health, and what it will mean for democracy. So the raft of downsides has changed.”

Ms Sridhar, who leads Koi Tū’s work on the impact of technology on society, says the intent is for the framework to provide a checklist that will be useful for all policymakers, decision-makers and the private sector.

“With increasing global fragmentation there is a need for urgency to determine how best to utilise this technology. There is a need for neutral voices to champion inclusive approaches that supports public discourse,” Ms Sridhar says.

“The framework gives a layer of structure to an area that has to date been quite subjective. It is a tool that could be used to establish common understanding to build consensus across multiple stakeholder groups as these capabilities continue to evolve,” she says.

About Koi Tū

Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures is a think tank focused on addressing long-term issues challenging our future. It was founded by Sir Peter Gluckman, former Chief Science Adviser to the Prime Minister and president of the International Science Council. Koi Tū is based at Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland.

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