Exploring the Potential and Pitfalls of Artificial Intelligence as a Tool for Prevention and Peacebuilding

Politically Speaking
4 min readJun 2, 2023

As the capabilities and functions of AI continue to grow, the Department examines how it can be used to enhance the work of conflict prevention, while ensuring that ethical considerations are fully addressed.

Photo credit: Markus Spiske

Excitement about the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) to transform our lives has reached a fever pitch. So has the level of collective anxiety. The image of intelligent machines freeing us from drudgery and allowing us to focus on more fulfilling work competes with dread over the possibility of computers possibly gaining autonomy and turning against humans. The sensationalist headlines or social media postings about the wonders or evil of AI reflect a growing recognition of the need for guardrails around these technologies and for discussion of how to spread its benefits evenly. Different parts of the United Nations have been focusing on AI, exploring how to harness its tremendous power for good and mitigate any potential harm.

This July, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations agency for information and communication technologies, will host “The AI for Good Summit 2023” in Geneva. The convention will bring together experts from around the globe to explore how artificial intelligence can be used to improve healthcare, education, sustainability, and smart cities.

The summit arrives on the heels of the Agency’s recent report surveying new developments in artificial intelligence (AI). The United Nations Activities on Artificial Intelligence 2022 report provides an overview of the UN’s initiatives in AI and highlights the need for its responsible development, with regard to its legal, ethical, and societal dimensions. It also cites the need for regulatory frameworks, transparency, and human rights protections.

In September 2021, then-High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michele Bachelet, reported on the possible “dark side” of AI. She said that the potential risks that AI posed to human rights should be addressed, underlining that, “The higher the risk for human rights, the stricter the legal requirements for the use of AI technology should be.” She also advised that States should place moratoriums on the sale and use of AI until adequate safeguards are put in place. Also in 2021, the Member States of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) adopted an agreement that defined the common values and principles needed to ensure the healthy development of AI.

DPPA’s Innovation Cell holds a workshop on Artificial Intelligence at the UN, May 2023. Credit: Innovation Cell.

The UN’s Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA) has been exploring the implications of AI with growing urgency given the exponential rise in Generative AI use, as exemplified by the popularity of tools like ChatGPT and image generators. At a workshop in May this year organized by DPPA’s Innovation Cell, participants discussed the current use of AI applications in content creation, learning and analysis, communications, accessibility, and task automation. They also imagined its future possibilities and applications and addressed concerns about data security.

Looking to the future, they also focused on how AI applications could be specifically tailored to meet the needs of staff at the UN Secretariat, as well as how staff could be trained on the benefits and potential risks of the technology.

Martin Waehlisch, DPPA’s Innovation Cell team leader, told Politically Speaking that many staffers across the UN system are curious about using AI for summarization, translations, and drafting to make their work more efficient. “We are actively discussing how to best harvest the power of Generative AI, but we are also careful as questions about ethical concerns, algorithmic bias, and regulatory challenges still need to be answered.”

“DPPA has been using machine leaning and natural language processing for our prevention, peacemaking and peacebuilding work for some years now, for instance, by running AI-enabled dialogues processes in Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, Haiti and Bolivia, or improving early warning on climate-change related issues in the Middle East and Central Africa,” Waehlisch said. “The UN actively embraces emerging technologies, recognizing their potential to enhance the pursuit of the common good, while ensuring they do not create unintended harm or negative consequences.”

He concluded that, “as we navigate the rapidly evolving landscape of AI, it is crucial to strike a delicate balance between innovation and the responsible utilization of AI. New technologies hold immense potential for solving complex global challenges, but we must ensure that it is developed and deployed with a strong commitment to human rights, inclusivity, and transparency in our ongoing peace support endeavours.”

Find out more about the work of the DPPA Policy and Mediation Division’s Innovation Cell here: https://futuringpeace.org/




Politically Speaking

The online magazine of the United Nations Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs