VATICAN CITY — During the month of November, Pope Francis draws our attention to the epochal change that humanity is experiencing thanks to advances in artificial intelligence. He, therefore, invites us to pray that this progress always “serve humankind,” respecting human dignity and taking care of Creation.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has made exponential advances, as evidenced by its many applications in different fields of knowledge. Today, 37% of organizations in the world have implemented AI in some way (which represents a 270% increase in the past four years).
In “The Pope Video” this month, Pope Francis clarifies that this progress in robotics and AI “can make a better world possible if it is joined to the common good.” In this sense, he hopes for technological progress that does not increase the inequalities in society. If it does, the Pope says, it will not be “true progress”. Such progress does not take into account the dignity of the human person and care for Creation.
AI is capable of addressing many problems facing humanity, such as in evaluating the learning capacity of students, in order to detect opportunities for improvement. It can help people with visual or hearing impairments by developing better communication tools (such as converting text to speech or speech to text). AI can also speed up the collection, processing and diffusion of health data to improve the diagnosis and treatment of patients, especially those living in remote areas.
The same applies to the field of ecology. Through AI, it is possible to analyze data on climate change and create models that can help predict natural disasters. It can also be used to create intelligent and sustainable cities by reducing urban spending, improving the resilience of highways and increasing energy efficiency. There are vast possibilities for using this technological progress for the common good, and “The Pope Video” uses images from the Italian Institute of Technology and the Italian multinational energy company, Enel, to show some of these benefits.
“Innovation,” says Enel’s CEO, Francesco Starace, “has placed at our disposition extraordinary tools that we need to be capable of using in the best possible way.”
He continues, “As Pope Francis reaffirms, it is our task to ensure that the resulting benefits are distributed fairly and create opportunities and wellbeing.” Starace says, “In order to give a positive orientation to our actions and choices regarding the present and the future, we must put respect for people and for the environment at the centre, adopting a vision based on sustainability. Only in this way can technological evolution be an ally of humanity and create opportunities which, up until a few years ago, we couldn’t even imagine.”
The Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network is responsible for the diffusion of the Pope’s monthly prayer intentions. In comments on the Holy Father’s prayer intention for November, the network’s international director, Jesuit Father Frédéric Fornos also speaks of the need to channel these rapid technological changes for the “good of all.”
“This month’s prayer intention,” he says, “reinforces the idea that the benefit that humanity has obtained (and will continue to obtain) from technological progress must always take into account as well, and in parallel, ‘adequate development of responsibility and values’.” This, Fr Fornos says, has been underscored by the Pope in his encyclical Laudato si’ and now in his third encyclical, Fratelli tutti, where he says, “How wonderful it would be if the growth of scientific and technological innovation could come with more equality and social inclusion!”
AI, robotics, and other applications of technology, says Fr Fornos, open great challenges for ethics and social justice. “This is why the Pope’s most recent petition is important: to pray that this progress will always ‘be human.’”
The text of the November 2020 prayer intention:
Artificial intelligence is at the heart of the epochal change we are experiencing. Robotics can make a better world possible if it is joined to the common good. Indeed, if technological progress increases inequalities, it is not true progress. Future advances should be oriented towards respecting the dignity of the person and of Creation.
Let us pray that the progress of robotics and artificial intelligence may always serve humankind… we could say, may it “be human.”