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Pope Francis Expresses AI Concerns at Historic G7 Summit

Pope Francis took an unprecedented step when he joined world leaders in Puglia, Italy, this week, becoming the first pope to attend a G7 summit. Although his presence itself was unprecedented, his stern warning about the potential dangers of artificial intelligence made headlines around the world.

The Pope’s AI Alarm

In his address to the summit, Pope Francis was forthright about his fears about the rapid development of artificial intelligence technology. He plainly stated, “The pope is not an engineer, but he is concerned.”

His concerns stemmed from the potential negative effects of AI if not guided by strong ethical principles. The pope warned that AI capabilities such as autonomous weapons and intrusive surveillance technology could be used in ways that undermine human dignity and freedom.

“We cannot underestimate the devastating impact that the new age of machine learning and artificial intelligence will have on the idea of ​​human relationships,” the pope cautioned the gathered world leaders. He urged them to ensure that AI remains fully under human control and aligned with universal human values.

A Moral Authority on Tech Ethics

As an authority on moral philosophy and ethics, the pope’s voice carries significant weight on the issue of developing emerging technologies like AI in responsible ways. Though he may not be a computer scientist himself, Francis has made promoting ethical technology a pillar of his papacy.

In 2020, he endorsed a call for ethical principles around AI from the Vatican’s Academy for Life and the Rome-based Mind Over Machine Institute. The pope has also consistently warned about the alienating societal effects of unchecked technological development.

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His G7 speech emphasized the need for AI governance shaped by universal human ethics around human flourishing, protecting individual liberty, respecting life, and promoting the common good.

“We have to ask ourselves whether machines should learn to think like us, or whether we should take care of how machines think—and in what image and likeness they should ultimately be shaped,” the pope urged.

The Risk of an AI Cold War

A large part of Francis’ AI-related concerns relate to the growing dynamic of major powers like the US and China, which are racing for AI supremacy in what some have called an “AI arms race.”

In his speech, the pope pointed to “the military development of such revolutionary technologies” as a source of grave moral risk. He warned that unchecked AI capabilities could make armed conflict potentially uncontrollable and lead to a new form of Cold War conflict.

“They could become inhumane weapons of high impact and worsen the already unacceptable situation of people forced to live in the indecently human periphery of our world,” Francis said plainly.

Alignment with the G7’s AI Priorities

While Francis’ message sometimes reflected a somber tone, his main themes were closely aligned with the AI ​​priorities outlined in the G7 leaders’ official statement at the end of the summit.

The communiqué committed G7 countries to developing “human-centered” AI based on shared democratic principles around human rights, individual liberty, and the rule of law. It also prioritized international cooperation to create a shared safety line for AI systems.

These priorities echo the Pope’s call for ethical AI in line with universal human values ​​and to avoid an AI arms race. The symbolism of the Bishop of Rome lending his moral voice to these efforts was certainly impressive.

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The Human Imperative in the AI ​​Age

Ultimately, Pope Francis aimed to be the human conscience in the AI ​​debate at the G7. He sought to remind powerful leaders that the unrestricted ambitions of artificial intelligence must be bound by human ethics and an awareness of protecting human dignity.

“We still have time to put a soul into the machine,” the Pope urged. That soul would be a quality compact that ensures AI remains in service to humanity and our universal values ​​as a species.

Whether the G7 leaders can meet this human imperative in this unprecedented AI era remains to be seen. But the Bishop of Rome has clearly staked the moral position of the Catholic Church by advocating for ethical AI development that aligns with eternal human intelligence.

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