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Reflections on Pope Francis' 2024 World Day of Peace message
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Fast moving advancements in science and technology grab our attention, spark fascination, and receive automatic acceptance within our modern societies which crave new things, quick results, and instant gratification. Within such an atmosphere there is often little time given to examine the pros and cons of budding technological innovations before they become mainstream - for good, or for bad. And the quickly developing world of artificial intelligence (AI) is a prime example.
In an insightful and challenging effort to stay morally ahead of the AI curve, Pope Francis has penned "Artificial Intelligence and Peace" as his Jan. 1, 2024, World Day of Peace message (see: https://bitly.ws/37M6b).
Regarding AI the pope writes, we "cannot presume a priori [from logical reasoning based on self-evident truths] that its development will make a beneficial contribution to the future of humanity and to peace among peoples. That a 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.'"
"Freedom and peaceful coexistence are threatened whenever human beings yield to the temptation to selfishness, self-interest, the desire for profit and the thirst for power. We thus have a duty to broaden our gaze and to direct techno-scientific research towards the pursuit of peace and the common good, in the service of the integral development of individuals and communities," writes the pope.
"Ethical considerations should also be taken into account from the very beginning of research, and continue through the phases of experimentation, design, production, distribution and marketing. This is the approach of ethics by design, and it is one in which educational institutions and decision-makers have an essential role to play."
But when ethics by design is not employed, we endanger the truth! A serious example raised by Pope Francis is found in the lies of misinformation - "fake news." And AI is becoming so technically sophisticated that it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish real news from fake news. We need to carefully discern, fact check, and consult highly reputable sources (see: https://bitly.ws/37Lwe).
Turning to AI and its increasing role in weapon development and use, the Holy Father writes, "In these days, as we look at the world around us, there can be no escaping serious ethical questions related to the armaments sector. The ability to conduct military operations through remote control systems has led to a lessened perception of the devastation caused by those weapon systems and the burden of responsibility for their use, resulting in an even more cold and detached approach to the immense tragedy of war" (listen to "The Take" https://bitly.ws/37Iux).
"Research on emerging technologies in the area of so-called Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems, including the weaponization of artificial intelligence, is a cause for grave ethical concern. Autonomous weapon systems can never be morally responsible subjects."
Warning: As weapon systems become increasingly autonomous, it is reasonable to see these weapons developing to a point where humans could lose partial or even full control of them. The 1983 movie "War Games" presents a realistically chilling scenario of humans initially losing computer control of a nuclear weapons system (see movie trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bymdsSvLfJY).
Amidst these necessary warnings Pope Francis has raised regarding AI, he adds, "On a more positive note, if artificial intelligence were used to promote integral human development, it could introduce important innovations in agriculture, education and culture, an improved level of life for entire nations and peoples, and the growth of human fraternity and social friendship. In the end, the way we use it to include the least of our brothers and sisters, the vulnerable and those most in need, will be the true measure of our humanity."
Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated Catholic social justice and peace columnist. He is available to speak at diocesan or parish gatherings. Tony can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.