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Pope calls for treaty regulating AI, warning of potential for ‘technological dictatorship’

Dec 14, 2023, 10:16 AM

Pope Francis attends mass for the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe inside Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vat...

Pope Francis attends mass for the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe inside Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Tuesday, Dec. 12. Pope Francis has called for an international treaty to regulate the use of Artificial Intelligence, warning that the new technology risks causing a “technological dictatorship” which would threaten peace and democracy. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Medichini/AP

(CNN) — Pope Francis has called for an international treaty to regulate the use of Artificial Intelligence, warning that the new technology risks could cause a “technological dictatorship,” that would threaten peace and democracy.

The 86-year-old pontiff says he wants world leaders to agree to a “binding international treaty” on AI developed within an ethical framework. Francis made the appeal in his annual message for the World Day of Peace which is marked by the Catholic Church every January 1.

“The unique human capacity for moral judgment and ethical decision-making is more than a complex collection of algorithms, and that capacity cannot be reduced to programming a machine, which as ‘intelligent’ as it may be, remains a machine,” Francis wrote.

“Any number of urgent questions need to be asked. What will be the consequences, in the medium and long term, of these new digital technologies? And what impact will they have on individual lives and on societies, on international stability and peace?”

The pope issued a strong warning against AI-controlled weapons systems which he called a “cause for grave ethical concern” while also raising alarm about the misuse of technology including “interference in elections, the rise of a surveillance society” and growing inequalities.

“All these factors risk fuelling conflicts and hindering peace,” the pope said.

Despite his cautious message, Francis did praise the “impressive achievements of science and technology,” insisting that AI also offers “exciting opportunities.”

At a press conference held Thursday in the Vatican to release his message, Cardinal Michael Czerny, one of the pope’s collaborators, insisted that Francis is “no luddite” but that AI is one of the highest stakes “gamble” on humanity’s future.

The pope’s call for AI regulation comes a few days after EU officials reached a provisional agreement on a new AI law, while a bipartisan group of legislators in the United States are assessing a framework of regulation on the technology.

Francis has himself been the victim of AI deep-fake imagery: earlier this year, an AI image of the pope wearing a white puffer jacket went viral.

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Pope calls for treaty regulating AI, warning of potential for ‘technological dictatorship’