Artificial Intelligence and Ethical Algorithms

June 02, 2021

The Vatican has just created a new Foundation dedicated to artificial intelligence (AI), with the aim of promoting an ethical approach to these algorithms which increasingly invade our daily lives.

Pope Francis has just erected, by rescript signed ex audientia on April 16, 2021 and published on May 18, a Foundation, called renAIssance, the objective of which is to promote an ethical approach to AI.

The new Foundation now enjoys its own canonical existence: it is under the Pontifical Academy for Life, chaired by Msgr. Vincenzo Paglia.

Distant Origins of the Foundation

This creation follows the Appeal of Rome for an Ethical Approach to Artificial Intelligence, “jointly signed on February 28, 2020 by Microsoft President Brad Smith, IBM Vice President John Kelly III, by the Director General of FAO, Qu Dongyu, by the Italian government in the person of the Minister of Innovation and Technology, Paola Pisano, and by myself ,” Msgr. Paglia explained to the Ansa news agency.

In order to avoid the drift of a “dictatorship of new technologies,” the president of the Academy for Life is betting on an AlgorETica - for “ethical algorithm” - against which the signatories of the Roman Appeal are committed: “faced with the invasion of everyone’s life by digital technology, it is important to reaffirm the ethical, educational, and common legal framework of artificial intelligence,” and to prevent “those who have big data from ‘using it as they see fit,’” insists Msgr. Paglia.

Concretely, the aim of renAIssance will be to help companies in a process of evaluating the effects of technologies linked to AI, the risks they entail, and possible modes of regulation.

Because, “equity in information research is at stake, since the sophistication of services is systematically withdrawn from those who do not belong to privileged groups or who do not have specific skills,” warned the Italian prelate.

There is deep concern in social and political spheres about the use of AI, especially in the areas of privacy, mass surveillance, facial recognition, but also in the context of political manipulation. China has illustrated this with the surveillance put in place against the Uyghurs.

This initiative, which has laudable aspects, unfortunately remains as part of the mission of a UN chaplain, a role that Peter's successor seems to want to assume at all costs.

It is part of the body of initiatives of the pontificate which work for “secondary Christianity.” This notion, admirably identified by Romano Amerio, is defined as “a tendency that arose in the nineteenth century…Christianity was seen as the supreme system of human values, as expressing the ideal of human perfection.” [Iota Unum, §220]

This spirit is found in a new form in the post-conciliar Church, continues the author, who claims that “Catholicism is not identify with any one culture, but acts as a leaven to them all. It is indeed true that religion has a civilizing effect, and the whole history of the Church bears witness to the fact; but Christianity does not primarily aim at advancing civilization, that is, at achieving an earthly kind of perfection…The Church offers its assistance to the world and is attempting to put itself at the head of human progress…and it wants to act as a ferment in all societies and push them towards a unified worldwide society…which will give rise to a new world that is more just and more human.” [Ibid., §§220, 222]

But, as Romano Amerio goes on to assert, “Christianity can never take man’s temporal perfection as its primary or even co-primary end without negating its own nature…The Church aided the development of European civilization, as a real but secondary effect of the practice of Christianity; it has also assisted in civilizing much of the rest of the world as well, but at Vatican II it took on the role of directly advancing man’s temporal welfare and has thus attempted to make secular progress part of the purpose of the Gospel.” [Ibid., §328]

And the author continues: “To integrate earthly well-being into the gospel message is to obscure Christianity’s ultraterrestrial goal.” [Ibid., §329] The Church is committed to an ecumenical humanitarian ideal by which she associates herself with all “men of good will.”

The renAIssance Foundation is only a new stage in the search for this humanitarian ideal which sets aside the primary mission of the Gospel: to convert people to Christ and to His light. This is the only way to ensure a little justice here on earth, for Christ is justice.