On February 28th, 2020, the Vatican through one of its institutions, the Pontifical Academy for Life; released a document titled, Rome Call for AI Ethics.
According to the Vatican representative; “The Call’s intention is to create a movement that will widen and involve other players: public institutions, NGOs, industries and groups to set a course for developing and using technologies derived from AI. From this point of view, we can say that the first signing of this call is not a culmination, but a starting point for a commitment that appears even more urgent and important than ever before.
Why is the Pope, the religious head of the Roman Catholic Church sanctioning the Church & it’s institutions to lead conversations for AI, and AI ethics?
Why will Microsoft & IBM, two of the world’s biggest private firms with sophisticated AI tools and data resource of sovereign Nations; cross from one end of the world, over miles and oceans, and head to the Vatican to sign a document championed by the Roman Catholic Church on how AI should be regulated for everyone on earth?
How did the church slowly, but surely now, become the epicenter for converging complex discussions on politics, socio-economic policies, global religion and even the biographical definition for everyone’s life on earth?
While the issue of AI and its regulation is pivotal and necessitates stakeholders around the globe to be involved-in it, the fact that a religious institution, not just anyone, the Roman Catholic Church (whose history of the dark ages remains indelible in the marked and unmarked graves of millions of martyrs), has as a lamb without horns, ‘unsolicitedly’ stepped into the role of leading the conversation for defining the moral framework that will shape the future of humanity – this should be a big cause for concern to anyone who cherishes what liberty of conscience should mean.
The issues before us as we wade into the waters of the next decade are existential; here is an excerpt from Pope Francis’s remark on the event;
“On the personal level, the digital age is changing our perception of space, of time and of the body. It is instilling a sense of unlimited possibilities, even as standardization is becoming more and more the main criterion of aggregation. It has become increasingly difficult to recognize and appreciate differences. On the socio-economic level, users are often reduced to “consumers”, prey to private interests concentrated in the hands of a few. From digital traces scattered on the internet, algorithms now extract data that enable mental and relational habits to be controlled, for commercial or political ends, frequently without our knowledge. This asymmetry, by which a select few know everything about us while we know nothing about them, dulls critical thought and the conscious exercise of freedom. Inequalities expand enormously; knowledge and wealth accumulate in a few hands with grave risks for democratic societies. Yet these dangers must not detract from the immense potential that new technologies offer. We find ourselves before a gift from God, a resource that can bear good fruits.”
The points raised by the pope are factual and deeply worrisome. In a few years the clear sign of their implication will be felt globally if steps are not taken to remedy the situation. The need to deal with these issues is now. The only problem is who would be eligible and responsible for leading this response. Government’s around the world are so embroiled with internal political squabbles, political leaders around the world only have one thing as a priority on their list – how to get elected or re-elected. The biggest nations of the world (US, China, Russia et al) are either embroiled in cold cyber wars, trade-wars or struggle for political relevance at home and abroad. The UN over time has mostly become a diplomatic institution, responding to crisis only as it is able to clear the numerous backlogs of world problems on its list.
So against this backdrop, who is the best candidate that the entire world can give the mantle and responsibility of charting the next course of its history? Who has the breadth of network that can steer the ship of the future in waters where it will have to meet storms caused by the winds of morality and ethics? Who can apply both physical and metaphysical definitions for rationalizing consciousness and the ‘why’ of human existence?
It appears all these questions have been rigged for a singular answer. An answer that has manifested itself in the person of the Pope, who in no way has shied from beginning his duty of leading the human race into a ‘new age’ or a ‘new world order’.
And so, new questions arise; Can the world trust the Vatican? Can the world trust the Pope?
John Kelly, IBM’s executive vice president who represented IBM at the event had this to say,
“AI is so close to human behavior and interaction this is really important to get right, so we are really proud to team up with the Catholic Church to get this one right.”
Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president, who signed the document on behalf of Microsoft said: “I think it’s a challenging time because there is so much polarization in so many parts of the world…We need people who can work to close the gaps that divide us – so in some ways I look at the Catholic Church, I look at a company like Microsoft, and I say why not?”
Some other people who signed the document included UN Food and Agricultural Organization director Qu Dongyu (who I personally believe was specifically chosen to represent the UN in this accord because of his Chinese nationalism) and Italy’s technology minister Paola Pisano.
So why make a big deal out of all this? After all, this seems like a good progress for humanity.
First off, I believe the church must be a channel of good to the world, and at all times it must do all the good it can for everyone on earth. But history has shown that the church or any religious establishment has ‘never not’ been intoxicated by the wine of power when it is concocted for it to drink – especially when such wine is brewed with a global flavor. The church must stand on its own, and the state or government institutions must stand on their own. In fact, this is the very reason why the United States as a nation came to be. The founding fathers of America, having gone through and seen what the cruel dictation and persecution of religious despots with state power can mean to the freedom of expression and the liberty of conscience, decided to build a nation right out from the virgin earth. A nation with all the attributes of a lamb (but may end up speaking like a dragon if care is not taken). A nation that has prospered and stood for absolute separation of Church and State, backed by the firm foundations in its Bill of Rights which proscribes that there be no room or advantage for governments’ pandering to religion of any kind.
It is Ironic that this ideology fought for by the founding fathers of the US has begun to lose its deep rooted implications in the eyes of their posterity. That two of the nation’s biggest tech companies (IBM & Microsoft), housing the data of millions of citizens including those of billions of people from different Nations over the world, would stretch their hands back over the breach that was painstakingly created, just so they can come into fellowship and put the fate of the future of humanity in the hands of their father’s arch enemy; must be the worry of all people who understands what it truly means to live with a liberty of conscience.
The precedence has been initiated, the United Nations through one of its representatives was a signatory, Italy through one of its minister was also a signatory, in time, many more companies and nations will join into this alliance with the view that the Pope and the Roman Catholic church would lead the conversation for how Artificial Intelligence should shape the future of humanity.
For this alliance to move progressively, fundamental views on morality, doctrines and philosophies will need to be harmonized. Issues such as consciousness, the origin of man, and even transhumanism will need to be given globally acceptable definitions.
Whose view will be subscribed to in all of this? Obviously, it will be that of the Church.
Rome Call for AI Ethics was not just one simple signing of a document. By virtue of this event, the private and public world has shown the world their acceptance of a new world leader. A leader who would be looked-upon to define the narrative for solving complex problems such as; socio-economic disparities, inequality, unemployment, hunger and poverty. Undoubtedly, the world has come to a point where it will have to choose between a form of fascism or continue to face its many malignant and excruciating conflicts like terrorism, wars, sociopathic leaders etc.
Many for-profit corporate organizations already operate with a form of fascism cloaked under the garment of capitalism. Facebook for example with its over 2 billion online citizens (which is approximately a fourth of the entire world population) can confidently refer to itself as a form of digital nation, one where its founder and CEO, calls all the shot. Imagine a situation where Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and possibly even the Chinese tech giants etc, backed by data and resources from different sovereign Nations and even global institutions like the United Nation; subscribe to this alliance, what power, what control, will be at the feet of the man or institution that wields it. The Pope is very much aware of this power, as stated in his remark for the event;
“On the socio-economic level, users are often reduced to “consumers”, prey to private interests concentrated in the hands of a few. From digital traces scattered on the internet, algorithms now extract data that enable mental and relational habits to be controlled, for commercial or political ends, frequently without our knowledge. This asymmetry, by which a select few know everything about us while we know nothing about them, dulls critical thought and the conscious exercise of freedom.”
AI should not be seen as just one technology in the list of emerging technologies like Blockchain, Quantum Computing, Virtual Reality, IOTs etc. AI is that one technology that will drive everything else by its ability to breathe the breath of intelligence which can make almost anything come alive.
This decade of the 2020s will be crucial to the shaping of man’s future. Whether the world really needs a world leader, one who will shelve the responsibility of how we use AI to paint the picture of our future, is a complex topic beyond the scope of this article. For the moment, I believe the world must be awakened to the new reality that now stares them in the face. A reality where unlikely partnerships can be formed between private companies from nations founded on religious liberty on one side with religious institutions having perpendicular beliefs and traditions from the other side of the world.
The world has entered into a new era, one where the need to regulate Artificial Intelligence and its implication for the future of man will lead to fornications and strange kinds of intercourse between Nations, merchants and corporate institutions of the world, and medieval institutions with links to Babylon as cryptically described in the bible book of Revelation 18 verse 3. All that can be said for now is this;
“Let all those who have ears; let them hear.”
I just released my book, 2020s & The Future Beyond, which dives deeply into what the future of this decade and the ones that come after will look like especially as it relates to the development of AI and other emerging technologies. Click here to learn more.