Catholic universities must engage in the development of AIs, says the cardinal

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Catholic universities must not retreat in the face of the daunting risks of artificial intelligence, but must be proactively involved in its ethical development, said the head of the Dicastery for Culture and Education.

Catholic universities are obliged to exercise a delicate responsibility in the new historical era represented by AI, said Cardinal Jos Tolentino de Mendona, prefect of the dicastery. Universities and, even more so, universities that share the Church’s mission, find themselves at a crossroads of cultural, scientific and social possibilities.

Quoting Pope Francis, he said that mere training in the correct use of new technologies will not prove sufficient and that it is not enough simply to rely on the moral sense of researchers and developers of devices and algorithms, signaling the need to develop algorithm-ethics.

The cardinal spoke on July 13 at the opening of a conference in Milan entitled The future of Catholic universities in the age of artificial intelligence, organized by the Strategic Alliance of Catholic Research Universities, an international network of leading Catholic universities dedicated to research.

In fact, Catholic universities must dialogue with the new, work tirelessly on current issues and problems, and establish themselves as great laboratories of the future, he said, since they are called not only to actively guard the noble memory of days gone by, but also to be the probes, and cradles, of tomorrow.

The next big investment in artificial intelligence must be human, the cardinal said.

With one eye on the risks posed by the widespread and unregulated use of artificial intelligence, Cardinal Tolentino’s dicastery has been working to bring tech industry leaders to the Vatican to discuss the ethical development of AI. In January, Pope Francis met with AI pioneers from companies like Microsoft and IBM and urged them to ensure that the use of AI does not propagate discriminatory practices.

Cardinal Tolentino recalled the pope’s conviction that only truly inclusive forms of dialogue can allow us to wisely discern how to place artificial intelligence and digital technologies at the service of the human family.

Corporate money flowing into AI development has already increased from $12.75 billion to $92 billion from 2015-22, according to Statista.

The next major investment in AI must be human, the cardinal said: an investment in training every member of the human family to develop their cognitive, creative, spiritual and ethical potential and thus contribute, in a qualified way, to the common good.

The big question behind artificial intelligence continues to be anthropological. The challenges posed to education cannot be different from those posed today to the human person, said the cardinal.

This is why Catholic universities must remember that they don’t live for themselves, he said. On the contrary, they develop to the extent that they become capable of listening, capable of co-responsible exercise of collaborative practices and of the generative meeting of people and cultures.

This requires creative intelligence, but also discernment that cannot be partial, nor improvised, but solidly grounded in one’s own values, he said.

Yet Cardinal Tolentino exhorted those in charge of Catholic education not to let themselves be discouraged by the difficulties of this historical period and rather to face it enlightened by that trust which the Christian promise radiates.

Those who live in the university world cannot afford to have no hope. Hope is our mission, said the cardinal. It’s not superficial optimism, but it’s knowing how to risk in the right way.

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