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Pope: AI poses ‘grave ethical concern’

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By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY — All forms of artificial intelligence should be used to alleviate human suffering, promote integral development and help end wars and conflicts, not increase inequality and injustice in the world, Pope Francis said in his message for World Peace Day 2024.

“Artificial intelligence ought to serve our best human potential and our highest aspirations, not compete with them,” the pope said in his message for the Jan. 1 commemoration.

The message, “Artificial Intelligence and Peace,” was addressed to all men and women in the world, and in particular to heads of government and the leaders of the different religions and civil society. It was released Dec. 14 at a Vatican news conference.

The pope’s message highlighted the “need to strengthen or, if necessary, to establish bodies charged with examining the ethical issues arising in this field and protecting the rights of those who employ forms of artificial intelligence or are affected by them.”

The impact of any form of artificial intelligence “depends not only on its technical design, but also on the aims and interests of its owners and developers, and on the situations in which it will be employed,” he said.

Positive outcomes “will only be achieved if we show ourselves capable of acting responsibly and respect such fundamental human values as ‘inclusion, transparency, security, equity, privacy and reliability,’” the pope added.

Many urgent questions need to be asked, he added, including, “What will be the consequences, in the medium and long term, of these new digital technologies? And what impact will they have on individual lives and on societies, on international stability and peace?”

“Artificial intelligences already exert huge influence and will increasingly do so, but we do not know where AI will take us in politics and commerce, culture and the environment and so on, so everyone needs to be better informed about developments as they occur, to speak up and take responsibility,” Cardinal Michael Czerny, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, told reporters on Dec. 14.

In his message, the pope pinpointed specific technologies and advancements in the world of artificial intelligence that require urgent attention and oversight such as: machine or deep learning; surveillance systems; social credit or ranking systems; and lethal autonomous weapons systems or LAWs.

The weaponization of artificial intelligence through LAWs, he said, “is a cause for grave ethical concern. Autonomous weapon systems can never be morally responsible subjects,” and so “it is imperative to ensure adequate, meaningful and consistent human oversight of weapon systems.”

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