Pope Francis to Advocate for AI Regulations at G7 Summit

BARI, Italy — Pope Francis has previously encountered artificial intelligence — a deepfake photo of him in a white puffer jacket went viral last year — but his concerns about AI go beyond an unflattering image. These concerns are now taking center stage at the Group of Seven summit.

Francis will address G7 leaders on Friday at their annual meeting in southern Italy — a first for a pope. He intends to use this opportunity to join the chorus of countries and global organizations advocating for stronger regulations on AI, following the surge in generative artificial intelligence fueled by OpenAI’s ChatGPT chatbot.

The Argentine pope used his annual peace message this year to call for an international treaty to ensure the ethical development and use of AI. He argues that a technology lacking human values of compassion, mercy, morality and forgiveness is too risky to develop without oversight.

Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni invited Francis and announced his participation, understanding the potential impact of his celebrity and moral authority in linking a widely shared concern about AI with his priorities of peace and social justice.

“The pope is, well, a very special kind of a celebrity,” said John Kirton, a political scientist at the University of Toronto who directs the G7 Research Group think tank.

Kirton recalled the last summit that had this kind of star power was the 2005 meeting in Gleneagles, Scotland, where members decided to eliminate the $40 billion of debts owed by 18 of the world’s poorest countries to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

That summit was preceded by a Live8 concert in London that featured Sting, The Who and a reformed Pink Floyd and drew over a million people in a show of solidarity against hunger and poverty in Africa.

“Gleneagles actually hit a home run and for some it’s one of the most successful summits,” Kirton said.

While there is no similar popular pressure being applied to G7 leaders in the Italian city of Puglia, Francis can leverage his own moral authority to renew his demands for AI safeguards and highlight the threats it poses to peace and society.

Generative AI technology has captivated the world with its ability to produce humanlike responses, but it has also sparked fears about AI safety and led to a flurry of global efforts to control it.

Some worry about catastrophic, albeit distant, risks to humanity due to its potential for creating new bioweapons and amplifying disinformation. Others are concerned about its impact on everyday life, through algorithmic bias that results in discrimination or AI systems that eliminate jobs.

In his peace message, Francis echoed these concerns and raised others. He said AI must prioritize guaranteeing fundamental human rights, promoting peace and protecting against disinformation, discrimination and distortion.

On the regulatory front, Francis will be preaching to the converted in a sense, as the G7 members have been at the forefront of the debate on AI oversight.

Japan, which held the G7’s rotating presidency last year, launched its Hiroshima AI process to develop international guiding principles and a code of conduct for AI developers. Building on these efforts, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida last month unveiled a framework for global regulation of generative AI, which are systems that can quickly generate new text, images, video, audio in response to prompts and commands.

The European Union was one of the early movers with its comprehensive AI Act that’s set to come into effect over the next two years and could serve as a global model. The act targets any AI product or service offered in the bloc’s 27 nations, with restrictions based on the level of risk they pose.

In the United States, President Joe Biden issued an executive order on AI safeguards and called for legislation to strengthen it, while some states like California and Colorado have been trying to pass their own AI bills, with mixed results.

Antitrust enforcers on both sides of the Atlantic have been scrutinizing big AI companies including Microsoft, Amazon and OpenAI over whether their dominant positions stifle competition.

Britain kickstarted a global dialogue on curbing AI’s most extreme dangers with a summit last fall. At a followup meeting in Seoul, companies pledged to develop the technology safely. France is set to host another meeting in the series early next year. The United Nations has also contributed with its first resolution on AI.

On the sidelines of his AI speech, Francis has a full day of bilateral meetings. He’ll see Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, as well as invited leaders from Algeria, Brazil, India, Kenya, Turkey. He will also meet with G7 members, including Biden, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron.