June 26, 2019

UNICRI Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics

By Irakli Beridze, Head, UNICRI Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics.

Advancements in artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics have resulted in, what was once an obscure academic field or science fiction, becoming increasingly integral to the very functioning of modern society.

The massive growth in computational power and increasing abundance of data that characterized the ‘Digital Revolution’ and the subsequent ‘Information Age’ have been at the core of this, vastly improving capabilities and broadening the range of real-world applications for AI and robotics.

The transformative potential of these technologies is already being leveraged by the healthcare, agriculture, automotive, manufacturing, energy, financial, communications, entertainment, retail, and many more sectors to enhance efficiency, improve powers of prediction, optimize resource allocation, reduce costs, create new revenue opportunities and contribute to the fulfilment of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

From a law crime, justice and security perspective, AI and robotics can support in the identification of persons of interest, stolen vehicles or suspicious sounds and behaviour; predict trends in criminality or terrorist action; track illicit money flows; and flag and respond to terrorist use of the internet. Their use is however not without its challenges, as ensuring respect for human rights remains a condicio sine qua non. 

Irakli Beridze, Head, UNICRI Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics.

At the same time, in the hands of criminals or terrorist organizations AI and robotics can enable new digital, physical and political threats. Although the integration of these technologies into crime and terrorism has yet to be substantially identified, preparedness for the emergence of new threats and crimes must be a priority as these technologies become more accessible and pervasive throughout society.

In 2014, the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) launched its programme on AI and robotics, which was one of the first international initiatives in this field. In 2017, UNICRI signed a Host Country Agreement with the Kingdom of the Netherlands, paving the way for opening a dedicated Centre for AI and Robotics in The Hague, The Netherlands. The Centre is committed to advancing understanding of these technologies from the perspective of crime, justice and security and to exploring their use for social good and contributing to a future free of violence and crime. 

Since then, UNICRI has worked to build a solid knowledge base and an extensive international network of partners and stakeholders that it has utilised to carry out several activities and convened high-level political meetings, including at the United Nations General Assembly, expert-level gatherings, training courses and workshops. As an action-oriented research institute, UNICRI has also conducted several studies on various aspects of AI and robotics, including on the application of AI by law enforcement, the social economic aspects and geopolitical influences.  

Last October, at the opening of the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, the Secretary-General, António Guterres, underlined that “rapidly developing fields such as artificial intelligence, blockchain and biotechnology have the potential to turbocharge progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals”. At the same time, acknowledged the risks associated with the advances in technology, describing these risks as an “epochal challenge”, alongside climate change. 

This duality is at the core of the work of UNICRI Centre for AI and Robotics, as it seeks  to reduce the risks of the malicious use of AI and robotics technology by criminals or terrorists, as well as leverage these technologies for positive change, enhancing crime prevention and control, criminal justice, and security in an ethical and human rights- and rule of law-consistent manner. 

About UNICRI

The United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute was established in 1968. Within the broad scope of its mandate, the Institute contributes, through research, training, field activities and the collection, exchange and dissemination of information, to the formulation and implementation of improved policies in the field of crime prevention, justice and emerging security threats, due regard being paid to the integration of such policies within broader policies for socio-economic change and development, and to the protection of human rights. 

Irakli Beridze, Head, UNICRI Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics 

More than 20 years of experience in leading multilateral negotiations, developing stakeholder engagement programmes with governments, UN agencies, international organisations, think tanks, civil society, foundations, academia, private industry and other partners on an international level. Since 2014, Initiated and managed one of the first United Nations Programme on Artificial Intelligence and Robotics. He is a member of various of international task forces and working groups advising governments and international organisations on finding synergies with traditional threats and risks as well as identifying solutions that frontier technologies can contribute to the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

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