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Pope Francis calls for treaty to regulate artificial intelligence

ROME — He spoke about it in meetings with world tech executives and was the victim of a deepfake that went viral. Today, in his most radical statement yet on a technology poised to change the world, Pope Francis delivered a verdict on artificial intelligence.

In a statement Thursday, Francis called for a binding global treaty on artificial intelligence, touting its potential benefits while warning of its raw destructive potential. He commented on the pitfalls of placing in human hands “a vast array of options, some of which may pose a risk to our survival and endanger our common home.”

“The aim of regulation, of course, should not only be the prevention of harmful practices, but also the encouragement of best practices, stimulating new and creative approaches and encouraging individual or collective initiatives,” wrote Francis.

The statement, issued to commemorate the 57th World Day of Peace, reflects a pope who has sought to serve as a moral compass on important and timely issues beyond traditional religious teaching.

While the Vatican may not have the power and influence it has wielded in the past, observers insist that Francis’ focus on climate change has placed the issue’s moral imperatives from a more acute spiritual angle. They suggest that the pope’s sustained focus on AI could have the same effect on a technology with almost limitless capabilities.

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“I see that fear is circulating among people, including among the laity, about the need for rules and guarantees,” said Vito Mancuso, a Catholic theologian and writer. “So I think, and I hope, that (what the pope said today) is important. This message is not about conversion or change of mentality, but only about saving humanity.

For the Vatican, the power of technology struck earlier this year, when a fake photo of Francis strutting in a chic, snow-white puffer jacket was shared around the world and signaled the enormous, even frightening, progress imagery created by AI. .

In what could have been a reference to technologies already deployed in countries like China, Francis warned of the dangers of “social control” through AI. He questioned the ethics of leaving subjective judgments – who should get a mortgage or land a specific job – in the hands of unfeeling machines.

“The large amount of data analyzed by artificial intelligences does not in itself constitute any guarantee of impartiality,” Francis wrote.

He also welcomed the promise of AI, saying the technology offered “exciting opportunities” and describing it as the “brilliant product” of humanity’s creative potential.

But he mainly focused on the risks. With smart drones already deployed on Ukraine’s battlefields, Francis called the rise of “lethal autonomous weapons systems, including the weaponization of artificial intelligence,” a “grave ethical concern.” “. A machine, he says, should not make life-or-death decisions.

“The unique human capacity for moral judgment and ethical decision-making is more than a complex set of algorithms, and this capacity cannot be reduced to programming a machine that is no matter how ‘intelligent’ it is. she remains a machine,” he declared. . “For this reason, it is imperative to ensure adequate, meaningful and consistent human oversight of weapon systems. »

The pope also sought to guide the use of AI, suggesting that the technology be applied not only to combating “fake news” and “disinformation” but also to breaking down walls between cultures in order to foster “fraternal coexistence”.

His comments came after European Union officials reached a historic deal last week on sweeping legislation that could ban the riskiest uses of AI and set a global standard for its regulation. Some campaigners say the legislation still leaves too much room for governments to deploy the technology.

EU reaches agreement on landmark AI bill, beating US

But the European effort is well ahead of regulatory efforts in the United States, where bipartisan legislation has stagnated, and senators signaled last week that Washington would take a much more restrained approach, focused on promoting research and development at the national level. In October, a global AI summit in Britain ended with agreement only on a vague roadmap for promoting security through existing international organizations, as well as “internationally inclusive” research into the most advanced future AI models.

Francis has already met with executives from Microsoft and IBM to discuss the ethics of technological advances, and in his apostolic exhortation on the environment in October he warned of the potential for artificial intelligence to become a “technocratic paradigm” which “feeds monstrously on itself”. .”

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