Pope Francis receives participants in the meeting on the 'Common Good in the Digital Age'

Francis gives Silicon Valley reps these rules for robots in the workplace, use of AI

The benefits to humanity of technological advances depend on the measure those advances are used ethically, the Pope has said.

Driving the news

Francis was speaking today in an audience with participants in a meeting at the Vatican on “The Common Good in the Digital Age”.

The September 26-28 summit has brought industry heavyweights such as Facebook, Mozilla and Western Digital into dialogue with Vatican ethicists, government regulators and investment bankers.

The big picture

In his address, the Pope warned against the “technocratic paradigm… that promises uncontrolled and unlimited progress” at the expense of “other factors of development, with great danger for the whole of humanity”.

As an antidote to that paradigm, Francis proposed a “culture of encounter and interdisciplinary dialogue” between experts like those at the Vatican meet.

Those experts come from fields as diverse as technology, economics, robotics, sociology, communications and cyber-security, as well as philosophy, ethics and moral theology.

The Pope lauded the meeting’s goal of setting out criteria “capable of providing guidance in ethical problems that occur with the widespread use of technology”.

“The key areas you are exploring will have an immediate and real impact on the lives of millions of people”, Francis reminded meeting participants.

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Go deeper

“New problems require new solutions”, the Pope continued.

He explained that “respect for principles and tradition must always be experienced in a form of creative fidelity, not rigid imitation or obsolete reductionism”.

“The common good is a good to which all people aspire, and there is no ethical system worthy of the name that does not see such a good as one of its essential points of reference”, the Pope added.

Why it matters

As a contribution to the search for new technological solutions, Francis considered two cases: that of robots in the workplace and that of artificial intelligence.

The Pope said further jobs automation has the potential to “put an end to certain arduous, risky and repetitive types of work… which often cause suffering, boredom and exhaustion”, just like in the nineteenth-century Industrial Revolution.

But Francis also warned against turning workplace robots into “a purely hyper-efficient tool, used only to increase profits and returns”.

Such machines “could deprive thousands of people of work, putting their dignity at risk”, the Pope warned.

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Francis continued by saying that AI could provide for “greater access to reliable information and thus guarantee the affirmation of correct analyses”.

But he added that greater use of the technology runs the risk of circulating “tendentious opinions and false data”.

Such ‘fake news’ “could poison public debates and even manipulate the opinions of millions of people, to the point of endangering the very institutions that guarantee peaceful civil coexistence”, the Pope warned.

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What’s next

Francis concluded his address by warning that “if technological advancement became the cause of increasingly evident inequalities, it would not be true and real progress”.

“If mankind’s so-called technological progress were to become an enemy of the common good, this would lead to an unfortunate regression to a form of barbarism dictated by the law of the strongest”.

Francis said civilisation is not worthy of the name unless it works to reduce “economic, educational, technological, social and cultural inequalities”.

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“The common good cannot be separated from the specific good of each individual”, the Pope emphasised.

He warned that the work of technological ethicists will continue “until no one remains the victim of a system, however advanced and efficient, that fails to value the intrinsic dignity and contribution of each person”.

“A better world is possible thanks to technological progress, if this is accompanied by an ethic inspired by a vision of the common good, an ethic of freedom, responsibility and fraternity, capable of fostering the full development of people in relation to others and to the whole of creation”, the Pope insisted.

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