Pope Francis: How we deploy AI will be ‘true measure of our humanity’

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Word of the year indeed — it seems even the Catholic Church can’t stop talking about AI. The events unfolding in the Middle East and the continued war in Ukraine has made the well-worn Christmas wish “peace on earth” even more acutely felt than normal (whatever that is). However, that the Pope would throw AI into the mix might have been a little less expected. 

The Pope’s message for the World Day of Peace (January 1) is titled “Artificial Intelligence and Peace”. While he expresses cautious optimism when it comes to the technology, he also relays concern that in our quest for absolute freedom, we risk falling into the “spiral of a technological dictatorship”. 

In the divide between those who favour self-governance and innovation and those who champion stringent rules to keep potential threats of AI technology at bay, Pope Francis definitely belongs to the pro-regulation camp.

“The global scale of artificial intelligence makes it clear that, alongside the responsibility of sovereign states to regulate its use internally, international organisations can play a decisive role in reaching multilateral agreements and coordinating their application and enforcement,” the Pope said in his message to world leaders. 

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However, these sentiments do not to any extent mean that the Pope is entirely adverse to the technology. Among other benefits, the Pope says it promises, for instance, liberation from drudgery, more efficient manufacturing, easier transport and more ready markets, and a revolution in processes of organising and confirming data. 

The case for a new school of algor-ethics

Beyond threats to “our survival and common home”, the Pope does seem to be acutely aware of more imminent dangers arising from AI — the reinforcement of bias, injustice, and prejudice. 

“We need to remember that scientific research and technological innovations are not disembodied and ‘neutral’, but subject to cultural influences,” Pope Francis continued. 

“As fully human activities, the directions they take reflect choices conditioned by personal, social, and cultural values in any given age. The same must be said of the results they produce,” he stated, and argued for the need for a cross-disciplinary dialogue aimed at an ethical development of algorithms — an “algor-ethics”. 

The message also touched upon the risks posed by hallucinations, disinformation and subsequent erosion of trust in media sources, along with threats to privacy, data, and intellectual property. Furthermore, it expressed a fear that “a Promethean presumption of self-sufficiency” would lead to out-of-proportion inequality and enormous wealth accumulating in the hands of a few.

In the end, the way we use [AI] to include the least of our brothers and sisters, the vulnerable and those most in need, will be the true measure of our humanity.” 

According to AI’s staunchest proponents (OpenAI’s mission is to create “safe AGI that benefits all of humanity” after all), AI could probably do a better job at brokering peace than humans.