03/02/2020, 17.44
VATICAN
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A code of ethics for artificial intelligence

by Nirmala Carvalho

A meeting sponsored by the Pontifical Academy for Life saw the presence of Microsoft President Brad Smith, IBM Executive Vice President John Kelly III, European Parliament President David Sassoli, and FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu. The conference stressed the importance of a “Call for Ethics" as the path to evaluate the effects of artificial intelligence and related technologies.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – The Pontifical Academy for Life held a meeting centred on The ‘good’ algorithm? Artificial Intelligence: Ethics, Law, Health. Tech giants of Microsoft and IBM were represented at the event, and joined the Vatican in calling for a clear system of ethics to guide developments.

“Artificial intelligence is going to change the world, and before we go too far forward with it, we need to think hard about the kind of impact we want to have,” said Microsoft president Brad Smith. In his view, the Catholic Church “a voice for humanity” amid the buzz over AI technologies.

For Smith, the final document, Call for an AI Ethics, is a “clarion call for a new generation of ethics,” and is designed to promote an ethical vision of artificial intelligence.

Microsoft and IBM were the first to sign the document, which stresses that new technologies “must be researched and produced in accordance with criteria that ensure it truly serves the entire human family,” especially the most vulnerable.

“Now more than ever,” says the document, “we must guarantee an outlook in which AI is developed with a focus not on technology, but rather for the good of humanity and of the environment”.

Systems must be conceived, designed and implemented to serve and protect humanity regardless of race or social status, the document adds, noting that as AI technology develops, it must meet three essential requirements: include everyone, promote the good of each individual and of humanity as a whole, and be aimed at protecting the planet.

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, highlighted the importance of the voice of the Catholic Church in the debate.

“We could say that the digital galaxy, and specifically artificial intelligence, is at the very heart of the epochal change we are experiencing,” he said, “altering the way we think and act”.

In his address, IBM Executive Vice President John Kelly III outlined the different stages of technological development, identifying three key eras of advancement: first, tabulation; programming; and now artificial intelligence.

As the global community wades deeper into the latter, Kelly, a Catholic, said it is important to remember that while AI machines are capable of learning without the need for specific instruction, they still take their cues from human beings.

AI machines “don’t have a consciousness. They are simply a reflection of us as humans,” he said, noting that when an AI machine is built, “it’s dumb,” only learning “by what we teach it.”

“If we build it, wouldn’t we expect it to absorb out own biases and hypothesis? It’s like looking in a mirror and seeing ourselves in these machines,” he said, stressing the need to make ethically sound choices in developing these technologies

In his address, Bishop Paglia cautioned that the “instrumentalisation” of AI can produce negative consequences, including vast inequalities and forms of control and exploitation.

Technology can create, but it can also destroy, he added, challenging those present to avoid “man becoming technolised, rather than technology becoming humanised.”

The prelate stressed the role of education, research, production and fair distribution of artificial intelligence technologies, in order to ensure that they have an ethical use.

He stressed the need for dialogue and collaboration with all parties, from leaders of the world’s religions, to major tech companies to political actors.

“We intend to develop humanism in the digital era,” the archbishop said, insisting that the “Rome Call for AI Ethics” document is “not a point of arrival, but departure.”

Speaking to AsiaNews after the conference, about the significance of the meeting for India, Archbishop Paglia said that “India is so great a country, it is so diverse. The people of India are remarkable, with rich and varied religious traditions and dialogue. India has tremendous technical expertise.”

Thus, “It is important that we work together. We need your encouragement, we need your brotherhood, we need you spirit and need your family. All of us need each other, to help each other, for the good of humanity and for the good of the planet.”

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