Pope, victim of AI, addresses dangers of technology in G7 summit

Pope Francis entered a new era of deepfakes last year when manipulated images of him in a Balenciaga puffer jacket went viral. Now, he’s speaking out and intervening in debates about the use of AI.

On Friday, Francis became the first pope to participate in the G7, a summit of leaders from the world’s most advanced economies. Not only that but in Italy, he also took part in a session dedicated to AI and used his speech to insist that the new technology should serve humanity.

“We would condemn humanity to a future without hope if we took away people’s ability to make decisions about themselves and their lives by dooming them to depend on the choices of machines,” said the pope.

“We need to ensure and safeguard a space for proper human control over the choices made by artificial intelligence programs. Human dignity itself depends on it.”

Last year, an image showing Francis wearing a white-colored puffer coat with a cross around his neck – obviously generated using an AI-based system – made the rounds on social media.

Francis’ decision to become the first pope to participate in a G7 summit demonstrates his desire to be where the “real debate actually takes place,” papal adviser Father Antonio Spadaro posted on X.

Last year, in his annual message for the World Day of Peace, the pontiff called for a binding international treaty to regulate the use of GenAI and warned that it could cause a “technological dictatorship.”

“Artificial intelligence ought to be understood as a galaxy of different realities. We cannot presume a priori that its development will make a beneficial contribution to the future of humanity and to peace among peoples,” said the pope.

“That positive outcome will only be achieved if we show ourselves capable of acting responsibly and respect such fundamental human values as inclusion, transparency, security, equity, privacy, and reliability.”

Francis, who has often criticized the armaments industry, also warned against the use of AI in weapons systems, saying it could lead to a global catastrophe.

"Research on emerging technologies in the area of so-called Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems, including the weaponization of artificial intelligence, is a cause for grave ethical concern. Autonomous weapon systems can never be morally responsible subjects," he said.

Since 2020, the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life, an organization advocating for Catholic moral teachings on bioethics, has also been promoting the “Rome Call for AI Ethics.” This document sets out six principles for AI ethics, among them transparency, inclusion, responsibility and impartiality.

Representatives of Judaism and Islam signed on last year, and the Catholic Church also wants big tech companies to join in. So far, only Microsoft, IBM, and Cisco Systems have done so.

According to some experts, the AI issue is a sort of an opening for the Church to try and reassert moral authority after scandals related to clerical sex abuse nearly drowned the organization.