The Vatican is calling on artificial intelligence giants (AI) like IBM and Microsoft “to humanise technology and not ‘technologise’ humanity”.

– An appeal for “human-centric” artificial intelligence

The Pontifical Academy for Life presented this Tuesday in the Vatican a general assembly and workshop February 26-28 to be devoted to the study of the impact, challenges and safeguards of artificial intelligence in such fields as ethics, legal rights and health care.

As part of the presentation, Academy member Father Paolo Benanti told reporters that John Kelly III, executive vice president of IBM, and Brad Smith, president of Microsoft, have been invited to sign a Vatican-backed “Call for AI Ethics” Friday as the culmination of the Academy workshop.

The Vatican call for a “human-centric artificial intelligence” will commit companies that join it to ensure that “ethical principles be present in AI products that they develop, sell and use”, Benanti, a theologian and expert in bioethics and the ethics of technology, explained.

Being still “an open framework”, the Vatican is hoping what it is calling the “Rome Call” for Ethics in Artifical Intelligence will be “the start of a movement that brings together people of goodwill to cooperate so that ethical choices, legal standards and appropriate education efforts make civil society capable of facing this new season” of an increasingly AI-dominated world, Benanti continued.

“Artificial Intelligence isn’t just to do one specific thing; it is destined above all to change the way in which we everything”, in the same way that steam power, electricity or automatisation, for example, changed the way we live, the expert said.

“If we want machines to support people and the common good, without ever replacing the human being, then algorithms must include ethical values and not only numerical ones”.

– “Shared commitment… to promote the good of humanity”

For his part, Pontifical Academy for Life president Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia said he was already looking to governments, NGOs, industry leaders and other associations to join the call for a human-centric technological ethic already seconded by companies like IBM and Microsoft.

Of the call for more responsibility in the technology sector – the text of which the Academy will present to Pope Francis – Paglia explained that “it is not an official text by the academy, but is a document of a shared commitment, proposed by us”, outlining guidelines “for an ethics of artificial intelligence”.

Such an ethics is necessary today given the need to harness “a strong moral drive to humanise technology and not ‘technologise’ humanity”, the prelate continued.

Ethics, the law, human rights, education, healthcare… the call will cover all these areas, and more, “to better understand how to promote the good of humanity” through a more socially-aware use of AI and technology, Paglia said.

“Even the most important decisions taken today, such as those of a medical, economic or social nature, are the result of human will and a series of algorithmic contributions”, Paglia explained.

“Human life is at the point of convergence between human intervention and automatic calculation, so it is increasingly complex to understand [technology’s] object, anticipate its effects [and] define its responsibility”.

– Towards a new “renAIssance”

Ahead of today’s press conference presenting the workshop and the “Rome Call” for an artificial intelligence ethic, Paglia had explained in a February 3 interview with OFCS.Report the need to inaugurate a “renaAIssance” [sic], a “new humanism” for the digital age, via “an in-depth examination of the effects of new technologies, of the risks they present, of possible regulatory structures, and of academic responses”.

“We felt an obligation to get aboard this new vehicle before it’s moving too fast to catch”, Paglia also said of the Vatican’s perhaps unexpected interest in new technologies.

“Without a humanistic and ethical perspective… new technologies canresult in changes so radical that humanity itself is put into question”, the Pontifical Academy for Life president warned.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.