Future of Work News

The Vatican Teams with Microsoft and IBM to Call for AI Ethics

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Microsoft and IBM have teamed up with an unlikely partner – the Vatican – in an effort to promote the ethical use of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies. The companies have signed on as sponsors of the Vatican-drafted “Rome Call for AI Ethics,” a document released last week calling for AI technologies to operate transparently, reliably and without bias with respect for the needs of human beings.

The paper was drafted over the past year, as Pope Francis has become increasingly concerned with the impact of AI on society. The Vatican has several pontifical academies conducting research about the impact of AI, robotics and other emerging technologies on Catholicism and humanity at large, all under the Pope’s authority.

The document was revealed at a conference on AI ethics hosted by the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life. Participants included David Sassoli, president of the European Parliament, Brad Smith, president of Microsoft and John Kelly III, executive vice president of IBM. It outlines six general principles for the use of AI and also points out concerns about inaccurate or biased software leading to harm.

“AI systems must be conceived, designed and implemented to serve and protect human beings and the environment in which they live,” according to the Rome Call. “This fundamental outlook must translate into a commitment to create living conditions (both social and personal) that allow both groups and individual members to strive to fully express themselves where possible.”

The document stipulates that ethics should be integral to an AI algorithm’s initial design. It also mandates that AI should be “explainable” to humans, including how it is used to make decisions on everything from vetting job candidates to determining who is eligible for parole. The Rome Call also calls for AI to not be discriminatory and points out the very valid concern that AI systems can mimic the biases of those who build and program them.

The Vatican’s position echoes that of many technology companies. The Partnership for AI, for instance, is a corporate-funded nonprofit organization that studies best practices for AI. Supporters include Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, IBM and Microsoft.

The Catholic Church has also been taking a leadership role when it comes to AI ethics, and the Dominican Order has supported the Optic organization since 2012. The priest-led group researches AI and its potential to marginalize humans, while also providing private consultations to tech industry leaders.

IBM shares concerns with the Vatican over AI’s potential to displace jobs, while the company has also voiced hesitation about AI healthcare recommendations. IBM recently signed a deal with Bambino Gesu Children’s Hospital in Rome to focus on developing technology to speed up diagnosis and treatment of brain tumor patients. But the company has also stated a human doctor should be part of any AI-led healthcare decisions.

“New forms of regulation must be encouraged to promote transparency and compliance with ethical principles,” according to the Rome Call, “especially for advanced technologies that have a higher risk of impacting human rights, such as facial recognition.”

To provide more information about how AI technologies and their associated ethics will impact the workplace of the future, TMC is hosting the Future of Work Expo from February 9-12, 2021 at the Miami Beach Convention Center. The event will explore how AI and machine learning can improve business applications, communications, collaboration, contact center and customer service, and marketing and sales experiences and initiatives.




Edited by Maurice Nagle

Future of Work Contributor

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