Pope: Making a person's life depend on an algorithm is unacceptable
Francis spoke to the signatories of “Rome Call for AI Ethics", an initiative of the Pontifical Academy for Life that brings together Christians, Jews and Muslims to protect human dignity in the new age of digital technologies. In his message for the Day of the Sick, the pontiff urges governments to ensure access to care for all, overcoming the structural limits shown by COVID-19.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis met today in the Clementine Hall (Vatican) with the signatories of the Rome Call for AI Ethics, an interfaith initiative promoted by the Pontifical Academy for Life and the Renaissance Foundation whose aim is to propose an alliance between knowledge and spirituality so as to protect human dignity in the spirit of Fratelli Tutti in the age of technological pervasiveness.
For the pontiff, artificial intelligence also needs ethics; indeed, it is not acceptable for example to make the life and fate of an asylum seeker depend on an algorithm.
In addition to Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, some of the first signatories of the appeal were present at the audience: Rabbi Rasson Weisz, Sheikh Abdallah bin Bayyah, but also figures from the world of technology such as Microsoft president Brad Smith, IBM vice-president Dario Gil and FAO chief economist Maximo Torero Cullen.
“We are all aware of how artificial intelligence is increasingly present in every aspect of daily life, both personal and social,” Francis said. “It affects the way we understand the world and ourselves. Innovation in this field means that these tools are increasingly decisive in human activity and even compelling in human decision-making.
“I am pleased to know that you also wish to involve the other great world religions and men and women of goodwill so that ‘algor-ethics’ – ethical reflection on the use of algorithms – will be increasingly present not only in public debate, but also in the development of technical solutions. Indeed, every person must be able to enjoy a human and supportive development, without anyone being excluded.”
In view of this, “We must therefore be vigilant and work to ensure that the discriminatory use of these instruments does not take root at the expense of the most fragile and excluded. Let us always remember that the way we treat the last and least of our brothers and sisters speaks of the value we place upon all human life. We could take the example of asylum seekers: it is not acceptable that the decision about someone’s life and future be entrusted to an algorithm.”
The pope also addressed the topic of caring for those who are most fragile in his message for the World Day of the Sick, also released today by the Vatican Press Office.
“Take care of him - Compassion as a synodal exercise of healing” is the theme chosen for the day the Church celebrates Our Lady of Lourdes, on 11 February, which this year is at its 31st edition.
Referring to the ongoing synod, Francis writes: “When we go on a journey with others, it is not unusual for someone to feel sick, to have to stop because of fatigue or of some mishap along the way. It is precisely in such moments that we see how we are walking together: whether we are truly companions on the journey, or merely individuals on the same path, looking after our own interests and leaving others to ‘make do’.”
The pontiff goes on to urge the faithful to see the social implications of this. “These past years of the pandemic have increased our sense of gratitude for those who work each day in the fields of healthcare and research. Yet it is not enough to emerge from such an immense collective tragedy simply by honouring heroes.
“COVID-19 has strained the great networks of expertise and solidarity, and has exposed the structural limits of existing public welfare systems. Gratitude, then, needs to be matched by actively seeking, in every country, strategies and resources in order to guarantee each person’s fundamental right to basic and decent healthcare.”