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Artificial Intelligence: A Brave New World?

Following Pope Francis' latest remarks about Artificial Intelligence we speak to a Moral Theologian about this hot-button issue and the ethical questions it raises.

By Susy Hodges

Artificial intelligence or AI is shaping our future with its increasing impact on our society and daily lives.  But what are its benefits and its threats, especially when it comes to the ethical issues posed by these new technologies?  Studies have predicted that increasing automation, such as for example self-driving vehicles, could lead to the loss of millions of jobs.  On the plus side, experts say AI will lead to new types of jobs and offer many benefits in the field of medical procedures and other fields. 

As the debate over the issues thrown up by the advent of AI continues, Pope Francis has on more than one occasion called for artificial intelligence and robots to work for the good of humanity and for its use to be properly monitored. He reiterated this need in a message sent to the Davos Economic Forum in January. 

Father Paolo Benanti is a Moral Theology professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University who has written papers on the subject of artificial intelligence.  Susy Hodges asked him whether he shares the Pope’s concern over the proper use of AI and the risks it poses.

“Dawn of a new era”

Father Benanti described the increasing recourse to artificial intelligence or AI as “the dawn of a new era” arising from the transformative power of this new technology that he said will lead to a radical re-shaping of the workplace.

Speaking about the dangers posed by AI, he pointed to an increasing uncertainty and unpredictability in our society as well as the risk of more inequality between social groups. At the same time Father Benanti acknowledged that AI can be “really positive” in many fields such as in medicine or performing dangerous jobs.   

“Needs to be human-centered”

When it comes to the ethical questions raised by AI, Father Benanti stressed that the relationship between human beings and machines always needs to be “human-centered” with the role of the human person valued and protected.

Asked about some of the changes that AI will bring about in the near or medium- term, he singled out the transforming power of a pervasive data on people and the loss of privacy that this entails

“Imagine a society in which we are being controlled 100% of the time by CCTV”, he warned.

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30 January 2018, 17:28