Vatican Joins With Microsoft, IBM In Call For AI Ethics

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Pope Francis warns of commercial AI’s potential to exacerbate societal ‘asymmetry’, joins with tech giants to call for regulation of facial recognition

The Vatican has joined forces with IBM and Microsoft to promote the ethical development of artificial intelligence, while calling for regulation of technologies such as face recognition.

The three signed an “ethical resolution” called the “Rome Call for AI Ethics”, which was presented on Friday to Pope Francis by Microsoft president Brad Smith and IBM executive vice president John Kelly, along with Vatican officials and UN Food and Agriculture Organisation director-general Qu Dongyu.

Microsoft and IBM lead the world in the number of AI patents they own.

The resolution called for AI to be developed in a way that respects privacy, works reliably and without bias, considers human rights and operates transparently.

Commercial purposes

Pope Francis backed the pledge in an address read on his behalf at a Friday event that the pope could not attend personally as he is ill.

In the address, Francis warned of AI being used in the service of a commercial “asymmetry” in which a “select few” gather vast amounts of commercial data on the rest of the population.

“Inequalities expand enormously; knowledge and wealth accumulate in a few hands with grave risks for democratic societies,” Francis said in the address, according to Reuters.

The joint document says there must be a “duty of explanation” to spell out how AI algorithms reach their decisions and what their objectives are.

Microsoft’s Smith said AI must be “guided by strong ethical principles”, while IBM global AI ethics leader Francesca Rossi said the Vatican was an expert on “values”.

The collaboration with the Vatican is aimed at arriving at an understanding of “how to use this technology with these values”, Rossi said.

Human rights

The joint document singles out face recognition as requiring particular scrutiny by authorities, since it has the potential to “impact human rights”.

“New forms of regulation must be encouraged to promote transparency and compliance with ethical principles, especially for advanced technologies that have a higher risk of impacting human rights, such as facial recognition,” the document says.

The workshop on AI took place during the annual assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life, which last year held a similar event on the theme of “roboethics“.

The academy was founded in 1994 with a focus on the development of biomedical research in such a way as to be compatible with “the promotion and defence of life”.

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