Friar Paolo Benanti, a monk of the Franciscan order, is the Vatican’s artificial intelligence (AI) expert and has called the technology “absolutely positive” as a product of human intelligence and ability, but it is not without ethical concerns.
According to a report from the AP on Jan. 18, the monk said that although he is a big believer in AI, he simultaneously believes government regulations based on “ethical considerations” should go hand-in-hand with the development of the technology.
“I have a deep understanding that there is no neutral technology because any tool could become a weapon.”
Benanti has a background in engineering with a doctorate in moral theology. He says his passion is on the “ethics of technology,’’ and is an advisor to the Pope on the topic, who released a 3,400-word letter on Dec. 15 warning of the dangers of the technology.
The Vatican AI expert is also a member of the United Nations Advisory Body on Artificial Intelligence and a leader of an AI commission advising the Italian government.
His main concerns about the ethical implications of AI arise not from people using it, but from governance over the technology and the “right level of use” in a social context.
“Today this technology could corrode our social ties, our ability to live together as a species. So there is a need for proper governance – and here the answer is entirely ethical and entrusted to national and international relations between states.”
In his annual peace message for 2024, he urged world leaders to create and uphold an international treaty that would ensure the ethical use of AI technology.
Benanti says that AI, for example, could be a “really powerful tool” to bring down costs of medicine and further the reach of doctors, however, he cautioned over choosing data that isn’t “sufficiently inclusive” of a wide demographic.
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has also spoken about AI’s potential to make the world a “more equitable place.”