Artificial intelligence, we need “founded criticism and monitored adherence”

Cardinals Ravasi, president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Culture, and Tolentino de Mendonça, his successor as prefect of the Dicastery for Culture and Education, presented today at the Italian Embassy to the Holy See the document “Artificial intelligence: distinguishes frequenter” created by the scientific council of the Cortile dei Gentili. The Portuguese cardinal: “It is not a theme of the future, but of today”

Alessandro Di Bussolo – Vatican City

A document on artificial intelligence that rejects apocalyptic visions, of those who “deem this experience a degeneration”, as well as those of integrated people, “that is, marry this new vision without asking ourselves ethical questions”. So the Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Culture, presented the document “Artificial intelligence: it distinguishes frequenters” created by the scientific council of the Cortile dei Gentili, in a meeting promoted with the Italian Embassy to the Holy See in Palazzo Borromeo. Ravasi, who founded the Courtyard in 2010, strongly desired by Pope Benedict XVI, in the “final” stage, he said, of his service, underlined that in dealing with artificial intelligence it is necessary to have “a well-founded criticism and a supervised membership”.

Beloved: there is a limit that must not be crossed, we are not God

Next to him the successor, the Cardinal José Tolentino de Mendonça, prefect of the new Department of Culture and Education, who defined “artificial intelligence not a question of the future, but of today”. After the initial greeting by Ambassador Francesco Di Nitto, Cardinal Ravasi underlined that an ethical judgment, including moral and anthropological control, is fundamental on the subject. Moderating the interventions of some members of the scientific council of the Cortile dei Gentili was the president Julian Amato, jurist and politician, who recalled the image that opens the film “A Space Odyssey”, and its unpredictable arc “from the ground-beaten bone of the chimpanzee ancestor, the first form of technology, to the madness of the computer of board Charlie, which refuses the astronauts a safe route. Thus man is in the hands of that bone which decides the fate of humanity”. If we don’t want to end up like that, Amato explained, “we need moral tension and the courage to say: there is a limit that cannot be crossed, we cannot play at being God, we are creatures and we cannot think of creating what we we are, perhaps better than those who created us because we are flawless”. We have gone from using AI to making it a substitute for us in certain decisions.

The manifesto of the meeting at the Italian Embassy to the Holy See

The manifesto of the meeting at the Italian Embassy to the Holy See

Palazzani: a “human-centric” document

Among the attendeesLaura Palazzanibioethicist and professor of Philosophy of the right to Lumsa, member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, he underlined that the challenge is the answer to be given “to the new technological wave”, which must be based on the analysis of the relationship between man and machine. “Technology – he explained – tries to simulate human intelligence or even replace it. Technocentrism wants it to replace or augment the human body.” The drafters of the document of the Courtyard of the Gentiles, on the other hand, define themselves as “human-centrists”. “Let’s say no – Palazzani clarified – to a technology against man, it must be for man and with man, with whom it must collaborate”. For this reason, artificial intelligence must have some ethical requirements defined in the document. They range from meaningful human control “to not overly delegating to technology. Algorithms can be wrong too. Furthermore, AI systems must be “reliable and explainable, traceable, and inclusive”. Because there is the risk of systems that have prejudices on age, gender, ethnicity. And be understandable to society. Here’s how the Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi introduced us to the topics of the document:

Listen to the interview with Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi

How to arrive at an ethical commonality in a society of pluralism, on the subject of artificial intelligence and its risks and advantages? What does the document of the Court of the Gentiles that you present today respond?

First of all, we must remember that we must not be tempted by the totally negative pole, the apocalyptics, who consider this experience of artificial intelligence a degeneration, nor should we be integrated, to use Umberto Eco’s famous expression. That is, not marrying this new vision without asking ourselves ethical questions. The need is precisely to distinguish clearly: artificial intelligence is fundamental for the world of work, medicine, research, even relationships. But on the other hand, especially when it comes to the so-called “strong” artificial intelligence, endowed with self-awareness and autonomy, it entails the importance of an ethical judgement, of a control also of a moral and anthropological type.

The Pope has already underlined the risk that the applications of artificial intelligence will increase inequalities between the peripheries and the centre, between those who have access to these technologies who do not, and also the risk of job losses…

Undoubtedly, a whole series of questions arise from an ethical point of view. If it is true that all strenuous work is performed by machines, the horizon in which machines intervene tends to widen and employment decreases, thus creating large pockets of unemployment. On the other hand, we must not forget that there is also the problem of the diffusion of these tools which are of high quality in the North of the world and not in the peripheries. Military use must also be taken into account, which ultimately becomes the area in which artificial intelligence is most developed, for war reasons. And therefore there are so many questions that require a judgment that is not only technical, but also moral.

Greetings from Cardinal Tolentino, prefect of the Dicastery of Culture and Education

Greetings from Cardinal Tolentino, prefect of the Dicastery of Culture and Education

Can we say that in this document there is a synthesis of the work on artificial intelligence of the dicastery that you presided over, also through the Courtyard of the Gentiles?

We carried out the work done through a scientific consultation, and it is purely theoretical and moral. On the one hand, that is, all the fundamental dimensions of artificial intelligence are sought by knowing its grammar, because it is a new way of also placing the human figure in relationship with the machine. On the other hand, however, we have also continually wanted to try to judge, to avoid drifts, to avoid on the one hand a sort of almost idolatrous adoration of this new structure, but also on the other hand to recognize its extraordinary greatness, the power that yet it may have for the welfare of mankind.

The problem remains monitoring the development and uses of AI. Who is it up to?

Monitoring would first of all be the responsibility of politics in its noblest form, international politics. Secondly, certainly, to science which is more, and broader, than pure technology. Technology proceeds mechanically, while science can also ask questions. The task is also, I would say more generally, of the Churches, of religious phenomena, of spiritual phenomena in general which seek to defend the human person and consequently also of the whole world of culture.

The intervention of Monsignor Polvani, secretary of the scientific council of the Cortile dei Gentili

The intervention of Monsignor Polvani, secretary of the scientific council of the Cortile dei Gentili

Polvani: the principle of “distingui frequenter”

The meeting was concluded by the secretary of the scientific council, Monsignor Carlo Maria Polvani, undersecretary of the Dicastery of Culture and Education, who underlined how in the document “we declare that we believe in friendship which is based on ethics, in an ethical commonality in the society of pluralism, defined as “Aristotelian Koinotes”. This is how he presented the work of the scientific council at the end of the meeting.

Listen to the interview with Monsignor Carlo Maria Polvani

What points of the document you are presenting today on Artificial Intelligence do you want to underline?

I would underline the methodology with which the problem of artificial intelligence has been tackled. A methodology anchored in the tradition of the Church and in the tradition of Western thought. We spoke of three principles: a distinctive principle of almost never denying, because when you deny something, you close off roads. Then a principle of affirming with extreme caution, so as not to find yourself trapped, and then a principle very dear to the Pope, which respects the versatility of truth, which is a continuous development of new categories, of continuous distinctions. To distinguish as much as possible.

And then there is the fundamental risk that through artificial intelligence man wants to take the place of God…

Yes, there is this profound risk, and the most serious thing is that this thing, as happens many times in history, almost imposes itself. The possibility of doing something replaces the legitimacy of doing something, and this is the great danger.

How to look at this regulation that has been talked about which should arrive shortly from the European Commission, precisely on Artificial Intelligence?

I think that in this sense Europe, and with it Italy which is part of it, wanted to attack the problem in an intelligent way and do what had also happened on the question of privacy, not let itself be overtaken. Today we can discuss, we can agree on some elements, perhaps criticize because some others are missing, but the main point is there has also been an effort from an ethical-legislative point of view, not to fall behind.

And then the importance of bets on man-centrism, I think it is fundamental for Christian personalism…

Absolutely, the word you used is the best: Christian personalism. Because when we talk about a man we always talk about a person.

Artificial intelligence, we need “founded criticism and monitored adherence” – Vatican News