Holy See addresses the digital revolution at UNGA78: Ethical reflections on AI and urgent climate action

The Holy See’s representative called for urgent ethical considerations in AI integration, advocated for international oversight of Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems, and underscored the need for technology to combat climate change.

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Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States of the Holy See, addresses the general debate of the General Assembly’s seventy-eighth session. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak

In his address to the 78th UN General Assembly (UNGA78), Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary of Relations with States of the Holy See, pointed out an important challenge at hand – the expanding digital galaxy, encompassing AI. He underlined that digital innovation was making an impact on every facet of life and community, from government to personal affairs. He emphasised that this digital transformation was now deeply embedded in human activities and decision-making, leading to a blurring of lines between human and machine inputs.

Furthermore, Gallagher expressed a pressing need for serious ethical contemplation regarding the integration of supercomputer systems into daily life. He noted that Pope Francis highlighted the necessity of vigilance to prevent discriminatory use of these instruments, especially against the most fragile and excluded members of society. Gallagher stressed that entrusting decisions about an individual’s life and future to algorithms was unacceptable.

Concerning the development and use of Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS), Gallagher articulated that a growing number of legal and ethical concerns had surfaced. He insisted that the use of LAWS must align with international humanitarian law and advocated for negotiations on a legally binding instrument governing their use. Until such negotiations concluded, the Holy See called for a moratorium on their deployment. Gallagher underscored the importance of ensuring meaningful human oversight in weapon systems, citing the unique capability of human beings to assess the ethical implications and responsibilities.

In the pursuit of addressing these challenges, the Holy See extended support for the establishment of an International Organization for Artificial Intelligence. Its mission was to facilitate the exchange of scientific and technological information for peaceful purposes and promote the common good and integral human development.

Additionally, Gallagher emphasised that alongside technological advancement, there should be a parallel commitment to safeguarding our common home. He advocated for the responsible use of new technologies to combat the global crisis of climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss. Gallagher echoed the injustice that those contributing the least to pollution often bore the brunt of climate change’s adverse effects, particularly in developing countries. Hence, Gallagher stressed the urgency of taking action to protect the world we inhabit.