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The first UN resolution on the regulation of AI – nice to have or big move?

Written by

Dr. Nicolas Sonder

Recently, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a landmark resolution on the promotion of “safe, secure and trustworthy” artificial intelligence (AI). The resolution aims to leverage the potential of AI for a sustainable development for all – and stands for the need to regulate AI on a supranational level. After the European Parliament has adopted the EU AI Act in March, the UN Resolution is the second supranational approach and it is the first time the Assembly has adopted a resolution on regulating AI ever. While the US National Security Advisor mentioned that the adoption would represent an “historic step forward” for the safe use of AI, the question of the impact of the resolution remains due to its non-binding character.

Main content of the resolution

The resolution focuses on capacity building and bridging digital divides, especially for developing countries, and thus on delivering on aspirations for sustainable development. Moreover, it aims for an approach that will balance the potential of AI systems towards securing human rights and fundamental freedoms. Specifically, the resolution claims an AI regulation that:

  • Resolves to bridge the artificial intelligence and other digital divides between and within countries
  • Resolves to promote safe, secure and trustworthy artificial intelligence systems
  • Encourages Member States and invites multi-stakeholders from all regions and countries within their respective roles and responsibilities
  • Calls upon Member States and invites other stakeholders to take action to cooperate with and provide assistance to developing countries
  • Emphasizes that human rights and fundamental freedoms must be respected, protected and promoted throughout the life cycle of artificial intelligence systems
  • Also recognizes that data is fundamental to the development and operation of artificial intelligence system
  • Encourages the private sector to adhere to applicable international and domestic laws and to act in line with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights
  • Calls upon specialized agencies, funds, programs, other entities, bodies and offices, and related organizations of the United Nations system, within their respective mandates and resources, to continue to assess and enhance their response to leverage the opportunities and address the challenges posed by artificial intelligence systems

This outline already demonstrates that behind the resolution, there is an ambitious agenda for a balanced AI regulation that involves all relevant stakeholders. Besides, the resolution also interlinks with previous AI tasks of the General Assembly to secure a consistent chronology. 

Legal qualification and overall impact

As in general, the resolution of the General Assembly is legally non-binding. It is more of an act of recommendation and giving a kind of guidance for the UN member states. However, the resolution has a binding effect in the internal governance of the UN – for example when it comes to questions of budgeting.

More important regarding the legal qualification of the resolution is probably the potential regulatory basis for further AI approaches also between the Member States. As the resolution is driven by a really strong consensus, its principles could be universally adopted by following AI regulations. In particular, the resolution can give a boost for AI in developing countries – in this respect, a lot of African countries were strongly engaged in the resolution process. Furthermore, those regions and countries that are already about to make significant investments in AI but still miss to create an AI regulation can draw on the resolution’s content – just to name the Middle East and specifically the Gulf States in this context.


The first UN resolution on the regulation of AI is not only nice to have – it is a big move. It is because of the clear consensus of the Member States on the regulatory direction to leverage the potential of AI for all in the sense of sustainable development – but only in accordance with fundamental rights and data privacy. Whether it can be even a historical move remains to be seen and will depend on the mutual acceptance and the ability of a common transition of the resolution’s principles by the Member States.