G20 must set up an international panel on technological change - Hindustan Times
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G20 must set up an international panel on technological change

ByMartin Rees, Shivaji Sondhi and K VijayRaghavan
Mar 19, 2023 08:18 PM IST

The panel’s mandate will be to assess where we are and where we are headed in the future when it comes to “post-human technology”. Unlike IPCC, which deals with much longer time scales, IPTC will need to work much faster and nimbly. It seems to us that the G20 is the right-sized organisation for chartering such a panel and enabling its functioning.

The release of ChatGPT has brought many people face-to-face with dramatic developments in technology, specifically Artificial Intelligence (AI), which has been worrying experts for almost a decade. Many people are worried about AI’s impact on their and the next generation’s livelihoods, and experts are debating whether scenarios in which we inadvertently create a superintelligence are still too farfetched to be taken seriously. Certainly, the term “artificial general intelligence” for machines that will be able to solve most problems that most of us can solve, is now commonly employed in expert circles.

The release of ChatGPT has brought many people face-to-face with dramatic developments in technology, specifically Artificial Intelligence (AI), which has been worrying experts for almost a decade (Shutterstock)
The release of ChatGPT has brought many people face-to-face with dramatic developments in technology, specifically Artificial Intelligence (AI), which has been worrying experts for almost a decade (Shutterstock)

However, a smaller number of people understand that developments in biology, although far slower moving, can also hugely disrupt the social order. These technologies include embryo selection and various degrees of germline editing made possible by Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) and related technologies.

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A high-level view of these developments is that human equilibrium — wherein cultural evolution was the dominant driver of change — is coming to an end and that hardware evolution, either outside us or inside us, will now be a significant force in human affairs. Exactly where that ends up is in our hands as a species. The need of the hour is for reassurance that the interests of the species will, in fact, prevail and that standard human political, economic and social processes will not lead to highly suboptimal outcomes. Currently, technological developments are taking place in concert with business as usual — a full-scale war, rising superpower rivalry and a highly competitive marketplace for technology companies.

To this end, we would like to propose a first step towards solving the underlying coordination problem. Along the lines of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was created to provide policymakers with regular scientific assessments on the climate crisis, its implications and potential future risks, we propose to create an International Panel on Technological Change (IPTC). The panel’s mandate will be to assess where we are and where we are headed in the future when it comes to “post-human technology”. Unlike IPCC, which deals with much longer time scales, IPTC will need to work much faster and nimbly. It seems to us that the G20 is the right-sized organisation for chartering such a panel and enabling its functioning.

We suggest that this be done quickly so that the first fruits of such a process can become available within a year from the hands of a relatively small high-level group that can tap the best minds worldwide on the most urgent technological issues. Thereafter, the process should proceed with continuous updating and a wider focus — providing a basis for potential international agreements to head off dangerous security competitions, social and economic disruption and, certainly, a rapid and uncontrolled transition beyond the power of humanity to shape to its benefit. We feel that this rise of post-human technology is a moment of extraordinary promise, but also extraordinary peril. We call upon the leaders of G20 to rise to the occasion.

Martin Rees is Astronomer Royal, former president of the Royal Society and a member of House of Lords. Shivaji Sondhi is Wykeham Professor of Physics at Oxford and professor emeritus at Princeton, K VijayRaghavan is former principal scientific adviser to the Government of India. The views expressed are personal

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