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Why the Pope has G7 leaders’ attention on AI ethics

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Why the Pope has G7 leaders' attention on AI ethics

After a grueling first day discussing how to finance a protracted war against an authoritarian dictator, G7 leaders in Puglia sought advice from someone who insists he is infallible and, for good measure, thinks Ukraine should have the courage to wave the White flag.

Normally, when an 87-year-old man who claims to be infallible shows up at your door, the instinct is to give him a cup of tea and calmly call social services. But when 1.3 billion other people, including his host, believe he’s truly infallible, the dynamic changes a bit.

Thus, Pope Francis, invited by the devout Catholic and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, was warmly received when he arrived at the summit of Mammon, the G7 club of rich Western countries.

Although the G7 is used to hearing prophecies from economists, he is the first religious leader to attend this event and give his prediction of what the future holds. Due to a curious schedule, he arrived after meeting with 100 world comedians in the Vatican. Not only did he collectively address the G7, but his formidable diplomatic operation had organized 10 bilateral meetings, 10 more than those organized by Rishi Sunak.

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For Joe Biden there must have been a special bond. Biden, 81, is the second Catholic president of the United States and, like the Pope, is dogged by unpleasant rumors that he should resign before the miracle of the afterlife overtakes him.

But everything is relative (often cruelly so), and when the Pope descended the steps of his helicopter to climb with his cane into the adjacent golf cart, it was as if Biden, by comparison, had been given the elixir of youth. .

But Pope Francis had not come primarily to preach about NATO barking foolishly at Russia’s door, or even about why Israel could show greater restraint in Gaza, positions it has recently adopted. He was at the summit to talk about the future, and given the sharp decisions the present always requires, world leaders love nothing more than discussing the future.

Indeed, the ability to reflect on an unknown future has often been considered the true hallmark of the wise statesman, as opposed to the dirty politician. One year the topic is the population explosion, the next the climate crisis or global pandemics; Currently, it is artificial intelligence.

Most self-respecting leaders pepper their forward-looking speeches with the ethics of AI and how it is a test for global governance. Sunak held the first global summit on AI safety leading to the Bletchley Declaration in October 2023. The UN has an advisory council of AI experts which issued an interim report in December and, in May 2023, under the Japanese presidency, the G7 leaders signed something called something discouraging. the Hiroshima Process. (This is not as incendiary as it suggests. Think Schmidhubernot Oppenheimer.)

Pope Francis greets Joe Biden before participating in a working session on artificial intelligence. Photograph: Tiziana Fabi/AFP/Getty Images

This, in turn, has led to the Hiroshima Process International Guiding Principles for Organizations Developing Advanced AI Systems. It contains 11 high-level principles, none of which have legal value and sometimes lack specificity.

Global governance is now all over AI like a rash. The EU, never slow to regulate in the digital field, passed a law that seeks to regulate AI in the EU to ensure that it is “aligned with human rights, democratic integrity and the rule of law.” Canada is broadly following the same example. The UK and US are being less prescriptive.

So how does the Pope fit into this patchwork tapestry? It is to Meloni’s credit that he is trying to build on Japan’s work rather than going in an entirely new direction. In fact, he has described AI as “the main challenge we face, anthropologically, economically, productively and socially.”

But he has joined the Pope, in part because the Pope himself relies on the thinking of a Franciscan friar Paolo Benanti, who in turn has become central to his own thinking, appearing as his advisor in meetings with titans like Bill Gates. .

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Benanti, clean-shaven, in a jovial brown tunic, is adept at explaining how technology can change the world, “with humans ceding the power of choice to an algorithm that knows us too well. Some people treat AIs as idols, oracles, or demigods. The risk is that they delegate critical thinking and decision-making power to these machines.”

AI is about choices. He notes: “As far back as tens of thousands of years ago, the club could have been a very useful tool or weapon to destroy others…”

The Italians, who are not pioneers in this technology, warn that AI heralds a world in which progress does not optimize human capabilities, but replaces them.

In the past, this substitution concerned mainly physical work, so that people could devote themselves to conceptual work. Now it is the intellect itself that is at risk of being replaced. “The world would run enormous risks if we considered these areas as free zones without rules,” Meloni warned.

The friar who coined the algorithm-ethical phrase that Meloni uses is the author of a light theological exposition of the techno-human condition and is tireless in defending that every aspect of our existence is technologically mediated or imposed.

He also plays a supporting role as an advisor to the Pope, explaining: “This pontificate began with Lampedusa, the immigrant question, continued with the encyclical Laudato si’ on the environment and climate change, and now addresses artificial intelligence.

“This shows the Pope’s sensitivity to border issues, the challenges facing humanity. “Francis reads the signs of the times.”

If you have the insight, it’s no wonder you’re so sought after by world leaders who are clearly looking for direction.

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