27 October 2023: United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has announced the appointment of Dr Abeba Birhane of Lero and Trinity College Dublin to a new UN AI Advisory Body. The new body will support the international community’s efforts to govern artificial intelligence.

“For developing economies, AI offers the possibility of leapfrogging outdated technologies and bringing services directly to people who need them most. The transformative potential of AI for good is difficult even to grasp. And without entering into a host of doomsday scenarios, it is already clear that the malicious use of AI could undermine trust in institutions, weaken social cohesion and threaten democracy itself,” Mr Guterres said.

“For all these reasons, I have called for a global, multidisciplinary, multistakeholder conversation on the governance of AI so that its benefits to humanity – all of humanity – are maximized, and the risks contained and diminished.” 

The formation of the AI Advisory Body marks a significant step in United Nations’ efforts to address issues in the international governance of artificial intelligence. 

Dr Birhane is well known for her work in the area of trustworthy AI, working as a Senior Fellow in Trustworthy AI at Mozilla Foundation, and an Adjunct Lecturer/Assistant Professor at the School of Computer Science and Statistics at Trinity College Dublin. Dr Birhane researches human behaviour, social systems, and responsible and ethical AI—work for which she was recently featured in Wired UK and TIME on the TIME100 Most Influential People in AI list.

Dr Birhane’s work explores the challenges and pitfalls of automating human behaviour through critical examination of existing computational models and audits of large scale datasets. She demonstrated patterns of problematic data collection, labelling, and use of large image datasets like MIT's 80 Million Tiny Images, which was taken down as a direct result of one of her papers. She demonstrated that these datasets—which were used to develop countless AI algorithms and systems—carry racist and misogynistic labels that cause direct downstream harms, especially to women and people of colour. She was awarded the 2019 NeurIPS Black in AI Best Paper Award, a 2020 VentureBeat AI Innovations in computer vision Award, a 2022 FAccT Distinguished Paper Award, and a 2022 Lero Director's Prize, among many other honours. Dr Birhane works closely with Lero colleague Professor Anthony Ventresque, who supervised her PhD.

The UN AI Advisory Body will foster a globally inclusive approach, drawing on the UN’s unique convening power as a universal and inclusive forum on critical challenges. 

Bringing together experts from government, the private sector, the research community, civil society, and academia, the body’s global, gender-balanced and interdisciplinary makeup will help it play a unique role in helping AI work for humanity. 

The body’s immediate tasks include building a global scientific consensus on risks and challenges, helping harness AI for the Sustainable Development Goals, and strengthening international cooperation on AI governance. It will help bridge other existing and emerging initiatives on AI governance, and issue preliminary recommendations by end-2023, with final recommendations by summer 2024, ahead of the Summit of the Future.

The first meeting of the Body takes place on 27 October 2023.