FOR better or for worse time will tell, but the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already beginning to transform society. Now, the Pope has teamed up with tech giants to ensure its ethical development is prioritised.

What has the Pope said?
Pope Francis has raised concerns about the speed of the spread of AI, noting its development is “one of the most important changes affecting today’s world” and “is at the very heart of the epochal change we are experiencing”.

Who is he working with?
Microsoft and IBM at the moment. Leaders from both firms have met with senior Vatican officials and agreed to collaborate on “human-centred” ways of designing AI.

And respect is key?
At a conference in Rome, Microsoft president, Brad Smith, and IMB Executive Vice President, John Kelly, issued a joint document with the Pontiff calling for the regulation of intrusive technologies, such as facial recognition, saying AI should respect dignity, privacy and human rights and operate transparently.

Their comments came…
…as a woman in London - who allegedly assaulted an emergency services worker - became the first person in the UK to be arrested using facial recognition technology.

There are concerns over this?
The Scotland Yard van-mounted cameras have begun being trialled in London, ahead of a city-wide roll-out. They record faces and send an alert to an officer’s phone if someone look like a suspect on a wanted list. However, human rights groups have been protesting this, saying the cameras could lead to innocent members of the public being stopped, searched and even arrested.

So regulation is the main aim?
The joint document makes a specific reference to any potential abuse of facial recognition, saying: “New forms of regulation must be encouraged to promote transparency and compliance with ethical principles, especially for advanced technologies that have a higher risk of impacting human rights, such as facial recognition.”

Pope Francis also called for the ethical development of algorithms - known as “algor-ethics”, pointing out that they allow a “select few” to know “everything about us, while we know nothing about them”, saying that this dulls critical thought.

This edges into ‘Dark AI’ territory?
“Dark AI” - where malevolent applications of AI could include anything from algorithms that manipulate trade to tech giants using it to manipulate the economy to their own benefit - is seemingly what the new approach is aiming to halt.

Will other firms sign up to the document?
It is not immediately clear how the principles of the document will be put into place or who else will come on board, but examples were given of what they are working toward. These include IBM wanting a doctor to be in the loop when its AI technology makes healthcare recommendations.

Ultimately, there is hope?
The Pope offered light at the end of the tunnel. He said that although algorithms can mean “knowledge and wealth accumulate in a few hands with grave risks for democratic societies”, “these dangers must not detract from the immense potential that new technologies offer.”