Pope Francis Becomes First Pope to Address G7 Summit, Voices Concerns Over AI

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Pope Francis challenged the leaders of the world’s wealthy democracies on Friday to prioritize human dignity in the development and use of artificial intelligence, warning that powerful technology risks reducing human relations to mere algorithms.

Francis brought his moral authority to the Group of Seven, invited by host Italy to address a special session at their annual summit on the perils and promises of AI. This marked the first time a pope attended the G7, offering an ethical perspective on an issue increasingly prominent in international summits, government policies, and corporate strategies.

Francis emphasized that politicians must ensure AI remains human-centric, keeping decisions about the use of weapons or less-lethal tools in human hands rather than machines.

The G7 final statement largely reflected his concerns.

The leaders committed to better coordinating the governance and regulatory frameworks surrounding AI to keep it “human-centered.” They also acknowledged the potential impacts on labor markets, with machines replacing human workers, and on the justice system, with algorithms predicting recidivism.

By attending the summit, Francis joined a growing chorus of countries and global bodies advocating for stronger regulations on AI following the boom in generative AI sparked by OpenAI’s ChatGPT chatbot.

Earlier this year, the Argentine pope used his annual peace message to call for an international treaty to ensure AI is developed and used ethically. He argued that a technology lacking human values such as compassion, mercy, morality, and forgiveness is too dangerous to develop unchecked.

While he didn’t repeat that call explicitly in his speech Friday, Francis made it clear that politicians must lead on this issue. He also urged them to ban the use of lethal autonomous weapons, colloquially known as “killer robots.”

On the weapons issue, the G7 leaders acknowledged the impact of AI in the military domain and the need for a framework for responsible development and use. They encouraged states to ensure that the military use of AI is responsible, complies with international law, particularly international humanitarian law, and enhances international security.

Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni invited Francis, recognizing the potential impact of his moral authority on the G7. Those seated at the table seemed duly awed, and the room fell silent when Francis arrived.

“The pope is, well, a very special kind of celebrity,” said John Kirton, a political scientist at the University of Toronto who directs the G7 Research Group think tank.

Kirton recalled the last summit with similar star power that led to action was the 2005 meeting in Gleneagles, Scotland, where world leaders decided to wipe out $40 billion of debt owed by 18 of the world’s poorest countries to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

That summit was preceded by a Live 8 concert in London featuring Sting, The Who, and a reformed Pink Floyd, drawing over a million people in solidarity against hunger and poverty in Africa.

No such popular pressure was present in the Italian region of Puglia, but Francis knew he could wield his moral authority to renew demands for AI safeguards and highlight the threats to peace and society posed by sidelining human ethics.

Generative AI technology has dazzled the world with its humanlike responses, but it has also sparked fears about AI safety and led to global efforts to rein it in.

Concerns range from catastrophic but distant risks to humanity due to the potential for creating new bioweapons and supercharging disinformation, to more immediate impacts like algorithmic bias resulting in discrimination or AI systems eliminating jobs.

In his peace message, Francis echoed these concerns and raised others. He stressed that AI must prioritize guaranteeing fundamental human rights, promoting peace, and guarding against disinformation, discrimination, and distortion.

On the regulation front, Francis was preaching to the converted, as G7 members have been at the forefront of the AI oversight debate.

Japan, which held the G7’s rotating presidency last year, launched the Hiroshima AI process to develop international guiding principles and a code of conduct for AI developers. Adding to these efforts, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida recently unveiled a framework for global regulation of generative AI.

The European Union was one of the first movers with its wide-ranging AI Act, set to take effect over the next two years and potentially serve as a global model. The act targets any AI product or service offered in the bloc’s 27 nations, with restrictions based on the level of risk they pose.

In the United States, President Joe Biden issued an executive order on AI safeguards and called for legislation to strengthen it. Some states, like California and Colorado, have been trying to pass their own AI bills with mixed results.

Britain initiated a global dialogue on AI’s most extreme dangers with a summit last fall. At a follow-up meeting in Seoul, companies pledged to develop the technology safely. France is set to host another meeting in the series early next year. The United Nations has also weighed in with its first resolution on AI.