06/14/2024, 20.40
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G7: Pope says no to ‘lethal autonomous weapons', hugs Modi

Francis spoke at the expanded session of the summit underway in Puglia under Italy’s presidency. This is the first time a pontiff sits among the world’s top political leaders. In his address, he focused on artificial intelligence, an “exciting and fearsome tool”, making an appeal for safeguards to protect the dignity of every human being. During his meeting with the Holy Father, the Indian prime minister renewed his invitation to visit India.

Brindisi (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis spoke today at the G7 summit in Italy. In an impassioned speech, he said that artificial intelligence (AI) is an “exciting and fearsome tool" that confronts political leaders with crucial choices for the future of humanity. In it, he called for a ban on "lethal autonomous weapons", which are based precisely on this new technology.

The pontiff’s address was followed by a long series of bilateral meetings with the world’s most important political leaders, including the much-anticipated tête-à-tête with recently re-elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Such key events filled Pope Francis’s afternoon at the G7 summit underway in Borgo Egnazia in Puglia, under the rotating presidency of Italy.

Arriving by helicopter from Rome, Francis took part in an expanded session that saw the participation of the G7 group’s member countries (United States, Canada, Germany, France, United Kingdom, Italy, and Japan), as well as other heads of state and government and representatives of international institutions.

In addition to Modi and Zelensky, the pope met with US President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Kenyan President William Samoei Ruto, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva.

Particularly significant for Asia was the hug with which Indian Prime Minister Modi met the pontiff in the hall where the summit is taking place.

This was the second time that Francis and the Hindu nationalist leader met, after the audience in the Vatican in October 2021, when the BJP leader was in Italy for the G20. In a tweet tonight, Modi said that he had renewed the invitation to Francis to visit India, which he had made for the first time three years ago.

“I admire his commitment to serve people and make our planet better,” Modi said on X, reacting to the video of the hug.

Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Mumbai, also reacted to the bilateral meeting.

Speaking to ANI, he said: “I am very happy that they have met...such meetings are helpful and it is a signal for everybody that PM respects the Holy father and appreciates what he has to say...such meetings are mutually beneficial...this shows certain commonality and interest to work for the good of the world…”.

This was the first time that a pope participated in a session of the G7. The occasion was provided by one of the items on the agenda, namely the increasingly widespread use of systems based on AI, which places governments at an ethical crossroads.

Pope Francis had already centred his message for World Day of Peace on 1 January on this topic. Even today in Puglia, at the table with the heads of state and government of some of the most important powers on Earth, he once again underlined AI ambivalence.

On the one hand, AI “generates excitement for the possibilities it offers, while on the other it gives rise to fear for the consequences it foreshadows”.

It “could enable a democratization of access to knowledge, the exponential advancement of scientific research and the possibility of giving demanding and arduous work to machines. Yet at the same time, it could bring with it a greater injustice between advanced and developing nations or between dominant and oppressed social classes, raising the dangerous possibility that a ‘throwaway culture’ be preferred to a ‘culture of encounter’.

At stake is not only the question of AI’s correct use, but also the understanding of the specific traits of this tool.

In his address, the pontiff noted that “when our ancestors sharpened flint stones to make knives, they used them both to cut hides for clothing and to kill each other. [. . .] Artificial intelligence, however, is a still more complex tool.” It “can autonomously adapt to the task assigned to it and, if designed this way, [and] can make choices independent of the person in order to achieve the intended goal.”

This feature, if it is not adequately regulated and controlled, can create serious dangers to humans.

“We would condemn humanity to a future without hope if we took away people’s ability to make decisions about themselves and their lives, by dooming them to depend on the choices of machines. We need to ensure and safeguard a space for proper human control over the choices made by artificial intelligence programs: human dignity itself depends on it.”

For this reason, he insisted on banning “lethal autonomous weapons” because “No machine should ever choose to take the life of a human being.”

Pope Francis also cited the possibility of programmes designed to help magistrates decide whether to grant house arrest to inmates who are serving a sentence in a prison.

“[A]rtificial intelligence is asked to predict the likelihood of a prisoner committing the same crime(s) again. It does so based on predetermined categories”. Such a method “may implicitly incorporate prejudices inherent in the categories of data used by artificial intelligence. [. . .] In reality, however, human beings are always developing, and are capable of surprising us by their actions. This is something that a machine cannot take into account.’

Even "generative artificial intelligence", on which tools such as ChatGPT are based today, if not adequately oriented, carries not only "the risk of legitimising fake news and strengthening a dominant culture’s advantage,” but “also undermines the educational process.”

“Education should provide students with the possibility of authentic reflection, yet it runs the risk of being reduced to a repetition of notions, which will increasingly be evaluated as unobjectionable, simply because of their constant repetition.”

Ultimately, it is a matter of putting the dignity of every person back at the centre, even in the new frontiers of technology. This “is why I welcomed both the 2020 signing in Rome of the Rome Call for AI Ethics, and its support for that type of ethical moderation of algorithms and artificial intelligence programs that I call ‘algor-ethics’”. 

These “principles are condensed into a global and pluralistic platform that is capable of finding support from cultures, religions, international organizations and major corporations, which are key players in this development.”

But none of this can work without political action. In fact, for Francis, “Politics is necessary!” Indeed, “true statecraft is manifest when, in difficult times, we uphold high principles and think of the long-term common good.”

The same goes for “artificial intelligence. It is up to everyone to make good use of it but the onus is on politics to create the conditions for such good use to be possible and fruitful.”

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