Pope Francis Urges Binding Global Treaty To Regulate AI

Pope Francis has directly intervened in the discussion about regulating artificial intelligence (AI), with a salient warning about the technology.

In his annual message for the Roman Catholic Church’s World Day of Peace (celebrated on 1 January), Pope Francis called for a legally binding international treaty to regulate artificial intelligence and warned of its dangers.

The Pope’s annual message (entitled ‘Artificial Intelligence and Peace’) is traditionally sent to world leaders and heads of institutions such as the United Nations.

Image credit: Tara Winstead/Pexels

Regulation needed

“We rightly rejoice and give thanks for the impressive achievements of science and technology, as a result of which countless ills that formerly plagued human life and caused great suffering have been remedied,” said the Pope. “At the same time, techno-scientific advances, by making it possible to exercise hitherto unprecedented control over reality, are placing in human hands a vast array of options, including some that may pose a risk to our survival and endanger our common home.”

The Pope then warned that “the impact of any artificial intelligence device – regardless of its underlying technology – depends not only on its technical design, but also on the aims and interests of its owners and developers, and on the situations in which it will be employed.”

“That positive outcome will only be achieved if we show ourselves capable of acting responsibly and respect such fundamental human values as “inclusion, transparency, security, equity, privacy and reliability,” said Pope Francis.

The Pope warned that AI algorithms must not be allowed to replace human values and warning of a “technological dictatorship” threatening human existence.

He called for global regulation of the technology.

“The global scale of artificial intelligence makes it clear that, alongside the responsibility of sovereign states to regulate its use internally, international organisations can play a decisive role in reaching multilateral agreements and co-ordinating their application and enforcement,” wrote the Pope.

“In this regard, I urge the global community of nations to work together in order to adopt a binding international treaty that regulates the development and use of artificial intelligence in its many forms,” said Pope Francis.

“The goal of regulation, naturally, should not only be the prevention of harmful practices but also the encouragement of best practices, by stimulating new and creative approaches and encouraging individual or group initiatives,” he added.

AI risks

Pope Francis also addressed some of the risks surrounding the unchecked use of AI.

He called for ethical scrutiny of the “aims and interest of (AI’s) owners and developers”, and warned that some applications of AI “may pose a risk to our survival and endanger our common home,” (i.e. the earth itself)

Pope Francis also issued warnings against the use of AI in weapons systems and its impact on the education sector.

“It is my prayer at the start of the New Year that the rapid development of forms of artificial intelligence will not increase cases of inequality and injustice all too present in today’s world, but will help put an end to wars and conflicts, and alleviate many forms of suffering that afflict our human family,” the Pope wrote.

AI regulation

It is fair to say that the regulation and safety of artificial intelligence is already being considered around the world.

The UK government hosted the first ever AI Safety Summit at Bletchley Park in early November, attended by leading nations, AI experts and business leaders including Prime Minister Rishi Sunak US Vice-President Kamala Harris, European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni, China’s tech vice minister Wu Zhaohui, and United Nations’ Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Organisations that attended included Amazon Web Services, Anthropic, ARM, Darktrace, Google DeepMind, Google, IBM, Meta, Microsoft, Nvidia, OpenAI (ChatGPT), Salesforce, Samsung Electronics, Sony, techUK, and Tencent.

And tech figures such as Meta’s president of global affairs, Nick Clegg, OpenAI’s CEO Sam Altman, and Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk, were also present.

Sam Altman. Image credit: OpenAI

The AI Safety Summit resulted in the first international declaration on AI, called the ‘Bletchley Declaration’, which agreed about the potential risks posed by the artificial intelligence.

The Bletchley Declaration saw countries such as UK, US, EU, Australia, and China all agree that artificial intelligence poses a potentially catastrophic risk to humanity.

More recently the European Union last week reached a provisional deal on landmark rules governing the use of AI, including governments’ use of AI in biometric surveillance and how to regulate AI systems such as ChatGPT.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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