Pope Francis raises alarm and cautions about AI at G7

Dr John Mohan Razu

On the one hand the futurologists and technologists say that the present and the future belong to AI, while the others especially the critics predict just the opposite of AI. In the entire development of Homo sapiens, AI seems to have raised a plethora of contesting viewpoints when compared with others. There are some innovations in the initial stages did pose serious problems.

 As times passed by controversies and polemics have been sorted out. But, AI continuously is clouded with serious charges coming out from different quarters. There are CEOs who run big AI oligopolies such as Elon Musk agrees with the fact that AI should come under regulatory processes and be monitored stringently. Nonetheless, AI is gaining momentum and continues to exert considerable influence across sections of society.   

As against the backdrop, Pope Francis challenged leaders of the world’ wealthy democracies on the 14th of June, 2024, which met in Italy to keep human dignity as the core while developing and using artificial intelligence, has warned that such power technology risks turning human relations themselves into mere algorithms. Pope Francis brought his moral authority to bear on the G7, invited by host Italy to address a special session at their annual summit on the theme The Perils and promises of AI. In doing so, he became the first pope to attend the G7, offering an ethical take on the issue that is increasingly on the agenda of international summits and government policy.

He continued by saying in the summit that politicians must take the lead in making sure AI remains human-centric, so that decisions about when to use weapons or even less-lethal tools always remain made by humans and not machines. He cautioned “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.” Pope Francis originally hails from Argentina used his annual peace message this year to call for an international treaty to ensure AI is developed on ethical systems and used with ethical values. He argued that a technology lacking human values of compassion, mercy, morality and forgiveness is too perilous to develop unchecked. Reiterating emphatically “No machine should ever choose to take the life of a human being.”

The above is the gist of Pope Francis’s text. Certainly Pope Francis address was historic and timely at G7 to leaders of highly technologized and industrialized countries urging them to recognize the power of AI which is on the one hand creative, while on the other, terrifying too, but urging them to ban the use of autonomous weapons in war.  He made an indirect reference to drones used in wars by countries.  He said that it should never be for machines to decide whether human being lives or die. One of the most serious aspects Pope Francis unraveled in world where human life hardly matters. 

In an extended session, leaders from Latin America, Africa, India and the Middle East heard from the pontiff in one of the largest such gatherings outside the UN general assembly. The pope, who has mobility problems, met leaders in a wheelchair, received warm greetings from Argentinean president Javier Millei, and the Indian PM Narendra Modi, both hugged the pope. By taking the context in which the entire world is living Pope Francis said, “In the light of the tragedy that is armed conflict, it is urgent to reconsider the development and use of devices like the so-called ‘lethal autonomous weapons’ and ultimately ban their use.” 

Elaborating further he said “This starts from an effective and concrete commitment to introduce ever greater and proper human control. No machine should ever choose to take the life of a human being.” He nuanced candidly that “Such a step would represent the darkening of the sense of humanity and concept of human dignity.” Everyone knows that the 87-year-old has chosen to become a leading voice on the ethics of AI, telling the audience that it had the capacity to be both a terrifying and fascinating tool.” He added that “it excited people and created fears at the same time, representing a chance to create a new social system, possible democratization, access to knowledge, acceleration of science research, but also to create further injustice, dominance and turning a culture of encounter into one of discardment.”

Powerful and scintillating analysis of AI from a Christian leader Pope Francis without mincing the words said “AI would influence medicine, the workforce, communications, education, and politics.” He said that AI would continue to penetrate into all facets and will increasingly dominate the human activities in due course of time. Drawing on Robert Hugh Benson’s early 20th-century book about the anti-Christ, Lord of the World, the people said the danger of AI lay in the ability it contained for machines to make decision independent of human beings. Adding further, “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.”  

Pope Francis said it was true of every tool since the dawn of time they could be used negatively or positively, underlying every tool has positives and negatives—double edged sword. While de-coding and ripping open those proponents of AI who speak in favor of AI and eulogize, Pope Francis said “Teams of lawyers from the rich and powerful trying to stop us publishing stories they don’t want to see. Lobby groups with opaque funding who are determined to undermine facts about the climate emergency and other established science. He made a swipe at those authoritarian states that have total disregard for the freedom of the press. Those spreading disinformation online do undermine democracy. With a note of hope he said” But we have something powerful on our side. We’ve got you.” 

Pope Francis has raised several key issues for the global leaders to ponder over. His entire lecture has been built around ethical values and moral principles embracing all faith persuasions. For him human beings are at the center of God’s creation. He urged the world leaders to look into the sanctity and human worth of God’s creation which is pivotal. If this is the case, no human invention ought to be allowed to destroy or take advantage of human beings. Humans have value that surpasses others and distinct. Human beings are embedded with invaluable and intrinsic values manifests in rationality and studded with emotions, responsibility, morality, creativity, moderation, and discernment.  In such a background, Artificial Intelligence (AI) we should allow AI to outwit human intelligence and so by all means artificial intelligence be not allowed based on value orientations and moral principles.