Italian premier taps Pope Francis to warn G7 of AI disaster if ethics ignored

Holy smokes, don't screw this up

Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni and Pope Francis have joined forces to deliver a high-stakes warning to world leaders: Dive headfirst into AI without thinking about ethics, and you're essentially inviting disaster.

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The dynamic duo's alliance, months in the making, will culminate on Friday when the pontiff, taking a break from his usual heavenly duties, jets off to the G7 summit in southern Italy at Meloni's behest, The Times reports. His mission? To school the bigwigs on the impending doom AI could unleash.

"Meloni is very worried about job losses and the social and economic consequences of AI. She fears it could become a social tsunami," chimed in Paolo Benanti, a Franciscan friar and tech guru who has been whispering advice to both Meloni and the Pope.

Benanti, clearly a fan of metaphors, added: "After tackling migration, climate change, and now AI, Pope Francis has shown he has a great ability to set the agenda, he is like an antenna. I imagine they agree on this and have the same way of seeing the problem."

Back in September, Meloni, 47, took to the UN stage in New York to talk about "Algorethics" – a term Benanti coined. "We were used to progress that aimed to optimize human capacities, while today we are dealing with progress that risks replacing human capacities," Meloni said. "More and more people will no longer be necessary in a world ever-dominated by disparities, by the concentration of power and wealth in the hands of the few."

She's got a point, especially when it comes to the might of multinational corporations. Benanti, ever the stats man, pointed out: "In Bologna we have the fourth-most powerful public supercomputer in the world. It has 40,000 GPUs, the building bricks for AI.

"Mark Zuckerberg has meanwhile said he will build up a supercomputer with GPUs and has ordered 600,000 of them. Multinationals do have huge power and I think British prime minister Sunak shares this concern."

Sunak and Meloni had a tête-à-tête about the tech when she popped over to the UK's AI Safety Summit at Bletchley Park in November.

Meloni heaped praise on the 87-year-old Pope for sparking the debate with his call for an AI ethics conference at the Vatican back in February 2020, drawing in heavyweights like Microsoft, IBM, and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.

His Holiness has also called for migrants to be defended and his 2015 environmental wake-up call in the encyclical letter Laudato Si (Praised Be) highlighted how climate change hits the poor hardest.

Benanti said: "From migrants to ecology to AI, he is sensitive to the needs of the most fragile people, the social effects. He sees how all the training of AI is done by underpaid English speakers around the world. In the same way he sees how the use of genetically modified crops actually leaves farmers poorer and more dependent on technology."

When the Pope steps up to the G7 mic in Puglia, he's set to talk about AI's impact on the poor and might drop a cautionary tale about AI in autonomous weaponry. Expect Meloni to lead the applause and champion stronger laws to keep the public clued in.

"This is not a world we want," she told the UN in September. "We need global governance mechanisms that ensure that these technologies respect ethical boundaries."

On the other hand, the hype of AI may be totally overblown. A study published this week by Lucidworks declared the "honeymoon phase over" after it found that "the financial benefits of implemented projects" in businesses "have been dismal." ®

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