A robot equipped with artificial intelligence is seen at the AI Xperience Center at Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Brussels Feb. 19, 2020. The Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life is fostering ethics and multidisciplinary alliances in the AI debate. CNS photo/Yves Herman, Reuters

Papal academy fosters ethics, multidisciplinary alliances in AI debate

By  Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service
  • May 11, 2020

VATICAN CITY -- Given the huge impact technology and artificial intelligence will have on humanity and the environment, the Pontifical Academy for Life is seeking to foster more ethical and moral reflection.

In another major step of contributing to this industry-wide discussion, a team of experts from the academy has authored an article that was published May 11 in Nature Machine Intelligence. An offshoot of Nature, the online-only journal specializes in interdisciplinary approaches to machine learning, robotics and artificial intelligence.

Titled "Contributions from the Catholic Church to ethical reflections in the digital era," the article emphasizes the ways the church can bring many different voices to the global discussion about AI and help shape policies and development.

"The fast pace of digital innovation and technological progress calls for profound ethical reflection" and ethical frameworks, the article said.

How digital innovation and technological progress will impact people, communities and the environment must be assessed and discussed by a growing number of people who come from a variety of backgrounds, it said.

Coming up with shared principles is needed in order to "move from guidelines to actions" and to promote sustainable development.

"The Roman Catholic Church is proactively joining the ongoing dialogue," it added.

The papal academy, which has hosted a number of events and initiatives dedicated to the need for ethical guidelines and principles in the field of AI, said the article discusses how the Christian understanding of mind, body, soul and intelligence fosters an optimistic, ethical and responsible form of development.

"Christian anthropology articulates a vision of human beings called to cultivate, develop and increase creation, establishing a future-oriented ethics open to and responsible for development," the article said.

"Such ethics promotes an attitude toward science and technology that is fundamentally confident and welcoming of innovation."

However, it said, "digital innovation and technological progress must contribute to human development" and benefit the environment and "those potentially left behind."

One example of where technology may exclude certain people is in the field of healthcare, it said. Advancements in therapy and restoring abilities lost to illness or accidents must be applied equitably, it added.

Global cooperation is needed, it said, as well as the input from many religious and faith communities.

The Pontifical Academy for Life, the article said, "strives to interweave faith with science and technology, so as to identify paths for multiple voices to respectfully walk alongside one another."

The academy has a working group dedicated to "roboethics," bringing together experts from a variety of countries and fields. Members have been asked to be a part of "the complex ongoing debate" globally and "help identify moral values and criteria of discernment, for the good of all human beings."

The team of experts that authored the two-page article included: Chris Gastmans, expert in medical ethics and head of the Center for Biomedical Ethics and Law at the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium; Jesuit Father Miguel Yanez, head of the moral theology department at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome; Richard M. Lerner, a professor of human development at Tufts University in Massachusetts; and Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the papal academy.

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