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A New Meaning to “All Roads Lead to Rome”: Vatican-led AI Ethics Dialogues Converge with Faith

All Roads Lead to Rome” is an age-old saying used to show the concept of convergence. The fast-paced development and proliferation of AI in recent years and the increased presence of Pope Francis and the Vatican in the deliberations on the ethical use of AI, appear to have adjusted the saying to: All AI ethics dialogues converge with faith through Rome.

The Vatican has been the catalyst in this convergence, with its consistent efforts in public engagement and audience development, and collaboration with representatives of civil society, government, businesses, the AI technology community, academia and religions through joint reflections and discussions. This model of global interdisciplinary collaboration has been shaped by the direct leadership of Popes and leaders from various Pontifical Academies 1 , the Pontifical Council for Culture 2 , and Dicasteries, that span over thirty years.

With his Motu Proprio “Vitae Mysterium” 3 (the mystery of life) on February 11, 1994, Pope Saint John Paul II instituted the Pontifical Academy for Life (Pontifica Accademia per la Vita – PAV) 4. Its objectives are “the study, information and formation on the principal problems of biomedicine and of law, relative to the promotion and defense of life, above all in the direct relation that they have with Christian morality and the directives of the Church’s Magisterium” 5. Originally focused on medical ethics issues such as the elderly, palliative care, euthanasia, abortion, IVF, and gene editing, its focus has expanded to include AI ethics. Most notably, the PAV XXVI General Assembly of Members in 2020, The “Good” Algorithm? Artificial Intelligence: Ethics, Law, Health 6 explored the anthropological and ethical scope of the transformations brought about by AI. The lasting impact of the Assembly is the public presentation of the Rome Call for AI Ethics 7 , offering the Roman Catholic Church’s tradition and experience in the shared search and understanding of what it means to be authentically human.

The Vatican and business leaders throughout the world established networks, initiated by the Rome Call for AI Ethics, starting in 2020. Pope Francis established a non-profit organization, the RenAIssance Foundation, in April 2021. Throughout 2022, both the Global University Summit for the Rome Call for AI Ethics co-organized by the PAV, IBM, and the University of Notre-Dame IBM Technology Ethics Lab8 and Microsoft’s Vice Chair, Brad Smith, contributed to these growing networks through their social media channels. The Rome Call for AI Ethics spread like a brain’s neural networks. The joint signature of the Rome Call for AI Ethics, in January 2023, by the Abrahamic Religions (Sheikh Al Mahfoudh Bin Bayyah, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, and Chief Rabbi Eliezer Simha Weisz) symbolized the shared responsibility across global faith communities. The RenAIssance Foundation’s Scientific Director, Fr. Professor Paolo Benanti, a major supporter of the Rome Call for AI Ethics, was appointed by the UN Secretary-General to be a member of a new UN Advisory Body on AI in October 2023. This moral theologian, bioethicist, ordained priest joined world business leaders from the Silicon Valley, politicians, and the Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, to address international governance of AI. The final report of the UN Advisory Body on AI will be released in the summer of 2024 in Hiroshima. Representatives of Eastern Religions will also attend this signing ceremony. The symbolic significance of this event cannot be overlooked. The Vatican has leveraged lessons learned from Hiroshima and Nagasaki- the potential destructiveness of technology which can be used for evil with lasting impact on humanities.

At the beginning of 2024, Pope Francis’s message on AI and peace for the 57th World Day of Peace was clear. It underscores the need for AI to build a more just and fraternal world and serve the common good. On January 24, Pope Francis urged humanity to cultivate wisdom of the heart in the age of AI and emphasized that human beings alone are capable of making sense of data and communicating with empathy and compassion in his message for the 58th World Day of Social Communications to be celebrated in many countries on May 12. From February 12-14, 2024, the PAV conference on technological progress and human identity took place in the Vatican City. Archbishop Paglia, the President of the PAV, in his opening remarks, reminded us that humanity now has the capability to drive itself to extinction in at least three separate ways: through climate change, nuclear power and wars, and emerging technologies such as AI. Referencing his recent visit to India for the plenary assembly of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India (CCBI) in Bangalore9 where he and Fr. Andrea Ciucci of the PAV spoke about the Church and the AI, including AI and faith for youths and adults, Archbishop Paglia reiterated Pope Francis’s recognition of a cross-disciplinary exchange in the logic of a true “cultural laboratory in which the Church carries out the performative interpretation of the reality brought about by the Christ event and nourished by the gifts of wisdom and knowledge by which the Holy Spirit enriches the People of God” 10. At the PAV conference, scientists, philosophers, theologians, and leaders in law and economy from all over the world gathered to discuss human meanings and challenges on technological progress. Speakers reiterated the importance of enriching dialogues on human identity in the age of emerging technologies. These included: collective intelligence, collaboration and action on humanity’s problems, cohabitation and interdependence, and human responsibility and solidarity for the common good. Professor Jim Al-Khalili, an Iraqi-British theoretical physicist and atheist who grew up in an inter-faith family of a Christian mother and a Muslim father, delivered a talk entitled, “Does science need to redefine the nature of humanity with the coming of AI?” He stressed that being human is more than our intelligence, intuition, or creativity, all of which will likely one day be replaced in AIs and is also a question of our behavior and interaction with our physical surroundings, our relationships with each other, within collective structures and societies. The cultural laboratory experience provided by the PAV conference was uniquely suited for the topic.

Presence of Abrahamic religions at the recent PAV, the increasing number of signatories to the Rome Call for AI Ethics, and the impact of the RenAIssance Foundation, represent the coming of age for faith communities that embody convergence of concerted efforts in response to the collective existential crises and practical opportunities. The constant messaging on the impact of AI on various areas of human life by Pope Francis, the Vatican and Academics generates snowballing effects which are reaching to the religious and non-religious, Abrahamic religions and Eastern religions, like the neural networks in the human brain. From Rome to Hiroshima, the Vatican to academic campuses, the PAV to Catholic Bishops conferences and leading tech companies, AI necessitates meaningful dialogues. The Vatican’s emphasis on mutual listening and critical reflection on technological progress and human identity is a synodal way of proceeding. It is committed to a serious and evangelical renewal of thought that goes beyond the juxtaposition of concepts. To create human flourishing through the age-old wisdom of human identity guided by faith, AI ethics dialogues converge with faith and the Vatican is poised to remain as a conduit for all stakeholders of AI ethics. All AI ethics dialogues converge with faith through Rome.


Yuriko Ryan

Is a seasoned bioethicist-gerontologist with over 20 years of international experience in healthcare ethics and policy. Based in Vancouver, she holds a Doctorate in Bioethics from Loyola University of Chicago and is a certified Healthcare Ethics Consultant (HEC-C) and Project Management Professional.

Yuriko’s expansive skill set includes Business Ethics, Healthcare Ethics, AI Ethics, and Public Health Ethics. Since 2015, she has led Health System Redesign Program at the Provincial Health Services Authority in British Columbia, managing over 130 projects that involved streamlining specialist services and fostering government partnerships.

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