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Pope Francis urges creation of international AI treaty

Written by Tue 19 Dec 2023

Credit: Reuters

Pope Francis has called for a binding international treaty to regulate artificial intelligence (AI) development and use.

In his 2024 World Peace Day message, titled Artificial Intelligence and Peace, Pope Francis encouraged individuals and society to be mindful of falling into ‘the spiral of a technological dictatorship’.

“Human beings are, by definition, mortal; by proposing to overcome every limit through technology, in an obsessive desire to control everything, we risk losing control over ourselves,” said Pope Francis.

The Pope said the goal of AI regulation should not only be the prevention of harmful practices, but also the encouragement of best practices. He added this should be achieved by stimulating new and creative approaches, and encouraging individual or group initiatives.

“This process of ethical and juridical discernment can prove a precious opportunity for shared reflection on the role that technology should play in our individual and communal lives, and how its use can contribute to the creation of a more equitable and humane world,” said the Pope.

He added that in debates about the regulation of AI, the voices of all stakeholders should be considered, including the poor, the powerless, and others who often go unheard in global decision-making processes.

“The global scale of AI 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,” said Pope Francis.

More widely, he stressed the need for ethical considerations to be considered from the outset of research for AI systems. This should be continued through the phases of experimentation, design, production, distribution, and marketing.

“This is the approach of ethics by design, and it is one in which educational institutions and decision-makers have an essential role to play,” he added.

Why has Pope Francis Called for an AI Treaty?

Pope Francis expressed concern regarding the development and use of AI technologies in language-processing tools, surveillance, and security.

The Pope said he was also worried about the lack of  ‘no single definition of artificial intelligence in the world of science and technology’.

“Technologies employing a variety of algorithms can extract data that enable them to control mental and relational habits for commercial or political purposes, often without our knowledge,” he added.

The Pope condemned the use of automatic processes that categorise individuals, like the use of surveillance or the adoption of a social credit system. He said that this could have ‘profound repercussions on the social fabric by establishing a ranking among citizens’.

Pope Francis added that the rising use of AI also has the potential to threaten jobs that were once the sole domain of human labour.

“There is the substantial risk of disproportionate benefit for the few at the price of the impoverishment of many,” he said.

The Pope also expressed grave ethical concerns regarding the weaponisation of AI. He said that autonomous weapon systems can never be morally responsible subjects.

“The unique human capacity for moral judgment and ethical decision-making is more than a complex collection of algorithms, and that capacity cannot be reduced to programming a machine,” said Pope Francis.

To help combat this worry, the Pope advocated for meaningful and consistent human oversight of weapon systems.

Pope Voices Hope for the Future

The Pope closed his message with an expression of hope. He stated that if AI is harnessed for human development, it has the potential to bring innovations to agriculture, education, and culture, ultimately enhancing the quality of life for entire nations and peoples.

In the end, the way we use it to include the least of our brothers and sisters, the vulnerable and those most in need, will be the true measure of our humanity,” said Pope Francis.

The Pope prayed that the swift advancement of AI will not exacerbate existing inequalities and injustices but rather alleviate various forms of human suffering.

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Written by Tue 19 Dec 2023

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