Vatican presses for regulation of AI weapons

The Vatican’s top diplomat has urged world leaders to put a pause on lethal autonomous weapons systems until international rules on their use are agreed.

Speaking at the UN General Assembly, Archbishop Liam Gallagher, the Holy See’s foreign minister, expressed the Vatican’s concern about the potential use of autonomous weapons systems – also known as “killer robots” – in armed conflicts.

He said that world leaders should start negotiating a legally binding agreement to govern autonomous weapons systems and implement a moratorium on the technology until they manage to achieve it.

“It is imperative to ensure adequate, meaningful, and consistent human oversight of weapon systems: only human beings are truly capable of seeing and judging the ethical impact of their actions, as well as assessing their consequent responsibilities,” Gallagher said.

The Holy See also supports the establishment of an International Organization for Artificial Intelligence, which Gallagher said should be aimed at promoting peaceful uses of the technology for the common good, as well as scientific and technological exchange.

“New technologies should be used to mitigate the planetary crisis of climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss, and the urgency of acting now to safeguard the world we live in,” he said.

In his remarks, Gallagher also warned against the discriminatory use of AI and quoted Pope Francis as saying that “it is not acceptable that the decision about someone’s life and future be entrusted to an algorithm.”

Archbishop Gallagher addresses the general debate of the General Assembly’s 78th session. Image by Cia Pak/UN Photo

The Vatican is not a UN member state and cannot vote, but it does have a permanent observer status. It made some of the most extensive remarks regarding AI at the UN’s annual gathering, where the topic received considerable attention this year.

The international body is about to set up an advisory body later this fall to examine the potential and risks of AI.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has previously called for a ban on autonomous weapons if they do not comply with international humanitarian law.

However, Russia’s disregard for international laws in its war against Ukraine has led some countries to question whether such constraints would leave them exposed to systems developed by their adversaries.

Pope Francis, the spiritual leader of the world’s Catholics, makes frequent comments about modern technologies despite previously saying he did not know how to use a computer.

The pontiff recently described AI advances as “remarkable” but warned the technology could fuel conflicts and antagonism.

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