While praising the benefits of technology and artificial intelligence, Pope Francis says AI raises serious questions and must be ethically and responsibly used to promote human dignity and the common good.
By Deborah Castellano Lubov
Pope Francis has applauded the benefits of technology and artificial intelligence, when used for the common good, but has warned against using AI unethically or irresponsibly.
He did so when addressing the ‘Minerva Dialogues,’ a high-level annual gathering of scientists and experts, organized by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Education and Culture, on Monday in the Vatican.
The assembly brings together experts from the world of technology – scientists, engineers, business leaders, lawyers and philosophers -and representatives of the Church – curial officials, theologians and ethicists – with the aim of studying and fostering greater awareness of the social and cultural impact of digital technologies, particularly artificial intelligence.
Responsible use of technology
The Pope said he greatly values this ongoing dialogue, especially as it involves the discussion regarding the responsible use of technology, a discussion, he called, “open to religious values.”
“I am convinced that dialogue between believers and nonbelievers on fundamental questions of ethics, science and art, and on the search for the meaning of life, is a path to peace and to integral human development.”
Technology is, and has been, he said, “immensely beneficial” to our human family, especially in the fields of medicine, engineering and communications.
In acknowledging the practical benefits of science and technology, he noted, “we also see them as evidence of the creativity of human beings and the nobility of their vocation to participate responsibly in God’s creative action.”
“From this perspective,” he said, “I am convinced that the development of artificial intelligence and machine learning has the potential to contribute in a positive way to the future of humanity.”
“At the same time,” Pope Francis cautioned, “I am certain that this potential will be realized only if there is a constant and consistent commitment on the part of those developing these technologies to act ethically and responsibly.”
“It is reassuring to know that many people in these fields are working to ensure that technology remains human-centred, ethically grounded and directed toward the good.”
He expressed appreciation for the consensus which has emerged, on the need for “development processes” to “respect such values as inclusion, transparency, security, equity, privacy and reliability.” He also welcomed efforts of international organizations to regulate these technologies, so that “they promote genuine progress, contributing, that is, to a better world and an integrally higher quality of life.”
Intrinsic dignity of every man and woman
“I would therefore encourage you, in your deliberations, to make the intrinsic dignity of every man and woman the key criterion in evaluating emerging technologies; these will prove ethically sound to the extent that they help respect that dignity and increase its expression at every level of human life.”
“It is a source of concern to me that evidence to date suggests that digital technologies have increased inequality in our world,” he lamented.
Certain questions, the Pope insisted, need to be raised.
“Are our national and international institutions able to hold technology companies accountable for the social and cultural impact of their products? Is there a risk that increased inequality could undermine our sense of human and social solidarity? Could we lose our sense of having a shared destiny?”
Our true goal, he said, must be for the growth of scientific and technological innovation to be accompanied by greater equality and social inclusion.
Data cannot measure human dignity
“The concept of intrinsic human dignity requires us to recognize and respect the fact that a person’s fundamental value cannot be measured by data alone,” the Pope said. “In social and economic decision-making,” he continued, “we should be cautious about delegating judgments to algorithms that process data, often collected surreptitiously, on an individual’s makeup and prior behaviour. “
He warned that such data can be “contaminated” by societal prejudices and preconceptions. “A person’s past behaviour,” he noted, “should not be used to deny him or her the opportunity to change, grow and contribute to society. “
“We cannot allow algorithms to limit or condition respect for human dignity, or to exclude compassion, mercy, forgiveness, and above all, the hope that people are able to change.”
Pope Francis concluded by offering his prayerful good wishes, thanking those present for their efforts to listen to and reflect on each other’s contributions.