A Franciscan friar has been appointed president of the Commission for Artificial Intelligence (AI), by the Italian government. The new commission was only created in the latter half of 2023, with the purpose of examining the various implications that the introduction of artificial intelligence will have on journalism and general publishing.
Friar Paolo Benanti, 50, is an expert on algorithm ethics who has served on the UN’s advisory body on AI affairs since October 2023. As the only Italian on the UN’s consultative council, he was the natural choice for Italy to attend to matters of AI.
As the AI Commission’s president, one of Friar Paolo’s first tasks will be to create a report that elaborates the state of AI in Italy, to be presented to Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.
In 2023, Friar Paolo gave a TEDx Talk in which he explained the ethics needed in the discussion of AI. While the video is in Italian, YouTube offers English subtitles:
In an interview with L’Osservatore Romano, Friar Paolo compared the evolution of AI technology to the advancements in instruments of warfare in the 20th century:
“Let’s think about a negative, but unfortunately, everyday area, like that of war. A gun, a machine gun, a bomb, an atomic bomb, are some points of a war innovation. However, no one thinks that the atomic bomb is better or better than the gun. Development, on the other hand, is what takes technological innovation and transforms it into something that also looks to the social good, the common good.”
Friar Paolo’s views on AI fall largely in line with Pope Francis who has been outspoken in his urge for caution in the pursuit of AI’s integration into society. In fact, the Pope’s World Day of Peace message for this year was on this theme.
In March 2023, Friar Paolo attended a meeting with Pope Francis, where the Pope discussed the need for firmly understood ethics in regards to AI’s integration in society.
Pope Francis urged caution in entrusting social and economic judgments to artificial intelligence, noting that the algorithms that process compiled data are working off information on people’s pasts. This, the Pope argues, can deny a person the opportunity to grow and change:
“This data can be contaminated by social prejudices and preconceived ideas. Especially, because the past behavior of an individual must not be used to deny him the opportunity to change, to grow, and to contribute to society. We cannot allow algorithms to limit or condition respect of human dignity, or to exclude compassion, mercy, forgiveness and, especially, openness to hope of change of the individual.”