Speech by Minister Hoekstra at the REAIM Summit closing event

Speech by Minister Wopke Hoekstra at the REAIM Summit closing event on Thursday 16 February 2023.

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Image: ©Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken / Phil Nijhuis

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

What is there more to say. It’s been a true pleasure to meet with all of you. To speak, to think with such inspiring people about a topic that clearly concerns all of us. It is about our future.

I made a confession at the ministerial round table that I would like to repeat here in full transparency: Of the 2,000 people present at this conference, it is certainly true that we politicians know the least about AI. It’s that lack of knowledge, that lack of understanding, that actually makes me uncomfortable.

But at the same time it gives me a strong sense of urgency. AI is already changing our world. We have seen it and discussed it here at this conference. It’s helping us translate, navigate, write… Indeed, as I said at the beginning, it can even write poetry, which I would argue is actually an utterly human activity.

At the same time, AI’s potential to think and act for humans worries me. As imperfect as we are, we must take responsibility at all times. For our own actions. For the technology we create.  For decisions about the most essential: life and death.

And that is only one of the aspects of AI that inspires the urgency I, and I’m sure all of you, feel. We must act now: So we can use the potential of AI to make our world safer and better. And so we can ensure the responsible development, deployment and use of AI in the military domain, within the parameters of international law. I’m very pleased that this sense of urgency is felt by everyone here today… People from more than 80 countries gathered here in The Hague.

Ladies and gentlemen, AI is all of our business. It’s as political as it is technical. It’s as public as it is commercial. If we leave AI to others, we are leaving our future to others. Together, we’re raising awareness of that urgency. Motivating countries, companies and civil society organisations to heed our call to action today.  More than 60 countries have already endorsed the Call to Action. And I sincerely hope more will follow. Let’s work together to make sure we persuade them.

Let me thank the two countries that have already responded to our call to action: the United States with its initiative to work on norms and principles and the Republic of Korea that will organize the next REAIM summit. They both have our full support and commitment.

Ladies and gentlemen, over the past two days, we’ve increased our understanding of what AI is, how it can be deployed, and what specific risks are involved.  We’ve busted myths, shared our thoughts about the responsible use of AI, and spoken about governance frameworks and how to continue.   

We’ve also learned how our efforts today differ from traditional arms control, which actually essentially is something different, and that AI is much more about risk management.  And we’ve identified tools that can ensure the responsible use of AI.

However, there are still many open questions. And I’d like to invite you to think about the structure of the Global Commission that we aim to launch, to seek answers to specifically these questions.

Dear friends, We are living in a very challenging time. A time of global warming, war and poverty. The international community is doing its utmost to put out these fires. But now it has the unique opportunity to prevent rather than just respond. To close the stable door before the horse bolts. To prevent AI from taking us to a place we don’t want to be. And at the same time to open the door to the future we do seek and do wish for our children.  

When it comes to warfare technology, you could say that for the first time in history we are ahead of the future. But only just. If you compare the speed of the development of ChatGPT to our track record in making agreements and reaching decisions, we’ve got no time to lose!

And that’s why we must make haste. This conference is only the starting point of a long process. But I’m very hopeful. Because during the past two days we’ve not only shared our knowledge, we’ve also shown our joint commitment.

To me, the conference’s biggest return is the signal we are sending to the world: That we want a future for our children that lives up to our standards, values and agreements. That we want to expand and fortify the international legal order, which is under severe pressure. And that we are prepared to take full responsibility.

Now we want as many other countries as possible to join us. Or let me put it in these poetic words that ChatGPT generated for me one very last time:

World leaders, hear our call,

Let's work together, lest we fall.

To set standards, guide the way,

For AI in the military, let us pave the way!

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you.