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Control power of AI, Pope urges G7

19 June 2024

Sophistication of AI represents ‘a true cognitive-industrial revolution’ he says


Pope Francis arrives at a working session on AI, Energy, Africa, and the Middle East, at the G7, on Friday

Pope Francis arrives at a working session on AI, Energy, Africa, and the Middle East, at the G7, on Friday

THE Pope has called for urgent “political action” to regulate artificial intelligence (AI), after becoming the first pope to attend a G7 summit.

“AI is an extremely powerful tool, employed in many kinds of human activity — its use will increasingly influence the way we live, our social relationships, even how we conceive of our identity as human beings,” Pope Francis told the summit at Fasano, in southern Italy.

“It could enable a democratisation of access to knowledge, the exponential advancement of scientific research, and the possibility of giving demanding and arduous work to machines. Yet at the same time, it could bring greater injustice between advanced and developing nations, between dominant and oppressed social classes.”

Addressing leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) industrialised countries and other heads of government at a summit “outreach session” on Friday, the Pope said that he had welcomed a “Rome Call for AI Ethics”, signed by political, industrial, and religious representatives, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, in February 2020, which called for an “ethical moderation of algorithms and AI programmes”.

The increased sophistication of AI, however, represented “a true cognitive-industrial revolution”, heralding “complex epochal transformations”, the Pope said, while its “exciting and fearsome” potential had stirred both anticipation and anxiety.

“Technology is born for a purpose, and, in its impact on human society, always represents a form of order in social relations and an arrangement of power,” the Pope said.

“The technological paradigm embodied in AI runs the risk of becoming a far more dangerous technocratic paradigm. We cannot allow a tool as powerful and indispensable as AI to reinforce such a paradigm — rather, we must make AI a bulwark against its expansion.”

The Pope held private talks with ten heads of state and government, including President Biden and the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, during the summit, which also focused on migration, climate change, and developments in Africa, the Middle East, and Ukraine.

In his lengthy address, published in eight languages, he said that human technologies throughout history, from flintstones to atomic fusion, had promised both benefit and harm. He said, however, that AI was qualitatively different, since it was no longer under personal control, but could “autonomously adapt” to its assigned tasks and make its own choices and decisions.

With AI already branching into quantum physics, the Pope said, the consequences could be deadly in the development of devices such as lethal autonomous weapons, and dehumanising in the judicial process, where sentences could be decided by statistical correlations and “algebraic operations”.

“At a time when AI programmes are examining human beings and their actions, it is precisely the ethos concerning the understanding of the value and dignity of the human person that is most at risk,” the Pope told G7 leaders.

“We would condemn humanity to a future without hope if we took away people’s ability to make decisions about themselves and their lives, dooming them to depend on the choices of machines.”

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