AI learning and artificial intelligence icons showing the need for AI ethics

Vatican Joins Forces With Microsoft and IBM In Support of AI Ethics

The Vatican has joined major technology companies in support of the development of AI ethics to ensure the technology works for the common good of the people. Pope Francis warned that various entities could use AI to exploit people for political and commercial purposes. The Pope’s backing for AI ethics speech was read on his behalf in the “The ‘Good’ Algorithm? Artificial Intelligence: Ethics, Law, Health” workshop organized by the Pontifical Academy for Life in the Vatican. The conference ran from February, 26-28 and had the IBM chief executive vice president John Kelly and Microsoft President Brad Smith in attendance. The Vatican’s interest in technology is an example of the organized religion striving to be on the right side of history in scientific matters.

Vatican’s interest in emerging technologies

Rome’s interest in technology is nothing new but has been growing over the years. The Church has been trying to understand the impact of technology on the Catholic Church and humanity. The Vatican already hosts various pontifical academies on sciences under the direct authority of the Pope. These academies have been studying various emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics. The Catholic Church believes that the Church’s social teaching can play a role in the ethical development of algorithms, also known as algor-ethics. The Church has also been consulting with tech giants on issues related to AI technologies. Vatican has also partnered with tech giants in projects such as the Bambino Gesù Children’s Hospital, where Vatican doctors use IBM systems in diagnosis.

Rome Call for AI Ethics document

The Pope’s message asserted that technological advancement required a clear framework for serving all people without discrimination. “AI systems must be conceived, designed and implemented to serve and protect human beings and the environment in which they live,” the document reads. The paper highlights six ethical principles that include responsibility, impartiality, reliability, security, transparency, and inclusion. According to Pope Francis, AI should be explainable to their users as the first step towards exploiting their full capabilities as well as protecting people. However, experts worry that this requirement might be too difficult to implement because of the complexity of AI systems.

Despite the good intention of the Vatican call for AI ethics, the document suffers from similar shortcomings that affect other AI ethics charters. The document is too general and vague, thus lacking direct applicability in a real-world scenario. Similarly, it lacks a yardstick for measuring how an AI system fulfills any of these demands. Lastly, it lacks authority and enforceability hence only serving as a suggestion rather than a biding document. However, it helps in providing a good foundation for tackling issues related to AI Ethics in the future as well as the Church’s position on the matter.

Rome’s concerns over artificial intelligence use

The Vatican is concerned about the possible misuse of AI technology. It, therefore, advocates for regulation of advanced technologies that have a higher risk of impacting human rights such as facial recognition technology. Warning that without AI Ethics regulations, the technology could expand inequalities, accumulate knowledge and wealth in the hands of a few people, thus putting whole societies at risk. The Fortune 500 companies apply AI in vetting job applicants, and the systems have been linked to prejudice against specific groups of people such as minorities and women. Additionally, Pope Francis is worried that only a few people understood what the AI systems are up to while the rest of the society is in the dark. In such circumstances, the Pope was worried that the systems could be used to take advantage of the people.

Support by the tech giants

Both Microsoft and IBM signed the Rome Call for AI Ethics document. IBM’s Vice President said that the company would prioritize on AI ethics ahead of profits. Kelly said that the company would not just hand technology over to its clients just because they have paid for it. Microsoft has reiterated in the past that it would not sell its technology to the government for surveillance purposes. However, Redmond’s promises have come short as it has been involved in government AI projects for perfecting targeted drone killings. Additionally, both companies do not restrict the type of systems clients run on their cloud infrastructures.