Pope Francis addresses participants in a workshop hosted by the Pontifical Academy for Life on the relationship between the person, emerging technologies and the common good, and reiterates that progress of science and technology must always be at the service of human dignity and integral human development.
By Lisa Zengarini
As it meets for its general assembly this week, the Pontifical Academy for Life is holding a two-day workshop focused on the ethical aspects of the so-called “Converging Technologies” (Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information Technology, and Cognitive Science).
Entitled “Converging on the person: Emerging Technologies for the Common Good”, the international workshop is taking place on 20-21 February with the participation of academics from around the world.
In his address to the participants on Monday, Pope Francis highlighted three important challenges in this delicate field “where progress, ethics and society meet, and where,” he said, “faith, in its perennial relevance, can provide a valuable contribution.”
The impact of technological advances on human living conditions
The first challenge is the rapid change brought by technological progress in humanity’s living conditions. Indeed, the Pope noted, the “strength and acceleration” of these advances are having an unprecedented impact on the environment and on human living conditions, “with effects and developments that are not always clear and predictable”, as shown by the multiple crises the world is facing today, from the pandemic to the energy crisis, from climate change to migration. Therefore, “healthy technological development cannot fail to take this complex interweaving into account”.
Technology cannot replace human contact and must not forget the vulnerable
The second challenge is the impact of new technologies on the definitions of “humanity” and “relationship”, especially with regard to the condition of vulnerable individuals. Noting that the technological form of human experience is becoming ever more “pervasive”, Pope Francis stressed the need for “a serious reflection on the very value of humanity”, and in particular to “reaffirm the importance of the concept of personal conscience as a relational experience, which cannot disregard either corporality or culture.”
“In the network of relationships, both subjective and community, technology cannot replace human contact, the virtual cannot replace the real and neither can social media replace the social sphere.”
The Pope went on to remark that even within scientific research processes, the relationship between the person and the community signals “increasingly complex ethical implications”, for example in the health sector, where he highlighted the urgent need to guarantee equal access to care “especially for the most fragile persons such as the disabled, the sick and the poor .“
Technology and cultures
This is why, he said, it is important “to monitor the speed of transformations, the interaction between changes and the possibility of guaranteeing an overall balance”, also keeping in mind that this balance is different in different cultures.
“(Efforts) should be aimed at making sure that everyone grows with the style that is peculiar to them, developing their ability to innovate starting from the values of their own culture.”
Promoting mutual understanding between science, technology and society
Finally, the third challenge is the definition of the concept of knowledge and the resulting consequences. Noting that “the type of knowledge we implement already has in itself moral implications”, the Pope underscored the need for more “articulated models”, considering “ the intertwining of relationships of which the single events are woven” instead of simplistic approaches.
In this regard, he remarked that the idea highlighted in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium and above all in his Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ of a human-centred technical knowledge based on the principle that “the whole is greater than the part”, and that “everything in the world is intimately connected”, can foster a “renewed way of thinking also in the theological sphere”. In fact, he said, “it is good that theology continues to overcome eminently apologetic approaches, to contribute to the definition of a new humanism and to encourage mutual listening and mutual understanding between science, technology and society.”
“The lack of a constructive dialogue between (science, technology and society) impoverishes the mutual trust which is at the basis of all human coexistence and of all forms of “social friendship”.”
Role of religions
Pope Francis also highlighted the crucial contribution religious traditions can give to this dialogue, noting that their ancient wisdom “can help in these processes.”
Concluding, Pope Francis encouraged the Pontifical Academy for Life to continue its commitment to ensure that “scientific and technological growth is increasingly reconciled with a parallel development of the human being”, insisting on the importance of “trans-disciplinary dialogue and collaboration” to address these complex issues.