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Pope attends G7 summit in historic first, warns of dangers of AI

Pope Francis leaves with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni at the end of a group photo the G7 in Borgo Egnazia, June 14, 2024
Pope Francis leaves with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni at the end of a group photo the G7 in Borgo Egnazia, June 14, 2024 Copyright Luca Bruno/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Luca Bruno/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
By Giorgia OrlandiEuronews with AP
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The pontiff brought his moral authority to bear on the G7, invited by host Italy to address a special session on the perils and promises of AI.

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Pope Francis has addressed leaders at the G7 Summit in southern Italy, the first pontiff to do so. 

Speaking at a special roundtable, the Pope challenged them to keep human dignity foremost in developing and using artificial intelligence, warning that such powerful technology risks turning human relations themselves into algorithms.

"Faced with the marvels of machines, which seem to know how to choose independently, we should be very clear that decision-making, even when we are confronted with its sometimes dramatic and urgent aspects, must always be left to the human person," he said.

Pope Francis with Italy's prime minister Giorgia Meloni and G7 heads of state during a family photo on day two of the summit at Borgo Egnazia, June 14, 2024
Pope Francis with Italy's prime minister Giorgia Meloni and G7 heads of state during a family photo on day two of the summit at Borgo Egnazia, June 14, 2024Christopher Furlong/2024 Getty Images

"We would condemn humanity to a future without hope if we took away people's ability to make decisions about themselves and their lives, by dooming them to depend on the choices of machines."

The pontiff has offered an ethical take on an issue that is increasingly on the agenda of international summits, government policy and corporate boards.

Francis said politicians must take the lead in making sure AI remains human-centric, so that decisions about when to use weapons or even less-lethal tools always remain made by humans and not machines.

He also took a swipe at autonomous weapons, saying it should never be left to machines to decide whether or not to kill a person.

No machine should ever choose to take the life of a human being.
Pope Francis
Head of the Roman Catholic Church

"Allow me to insist, in light of the tragedy that is armed conflict, it is urgent to reconsider the development and use of devices like the so-called 'lethal autonomous weapons' and ultimately ban their use. This starts from an effective and concrete commitment to introduce ever greater and proper human control. No machine should ever choose to take the life of a human being," he said. 

The G7 final statement largely reflected his concerns. Leaders vowed to better coordinate the governance and regulatory frameworks surrounding AI to keep it 'human-centred.'

At the same time, they acknowledged the potential impacts on the labour markets of machines taking the place of human workers and on the justice system of algorithms predicting recidivism.

"We will pursue an inclusive, human-centred, digital transformation that underpins economic growth and sustainable development, maximizes benefits, and manages risks, in line with our shared democratic values and respect for human rights," they said.

By attending the summit, Francis joined a chorus of countries and global bodies pushing for stronger guardrails on AI following the boom in generative AI kickstarted by OpenAI's ChatGPT chatbot.

On the weapons issue, G7 leaders said they recognised the impact of AI in the military domain "and the need for a framework for responsible development and use." They encouraged states to make sure "military use of AI is responsible, complies with applicable international law, particularly international humanitarian law, and enhances international security."

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