Vatican: AI in food sector at the service of every human life

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Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Vatican Pontifical Academy for Life on Thursday participated in a webinar on “AI, Food for all. Dialogue and Experiences”.

By Robin Gomes

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), IBM and Microsoft, organized the event with the Pontifical Academy for Life, to relaunch a commitment towards developing forms of Artificial Intelligence (AI) that are inclusive and promote sustainability.

Basics of human life and existence

Reflecting on the contribution that AI can make to food production, Archbishop Paglia said it leads to basic and decisive questions about human life and existence.  

He said life is more than DNA. Hence even the greatest intelligence, including digital of the most powerful machine learning system, has no power over life. “Human life cannot be reduced to an algorithm”, he said. It never allows itself be fully coded and is “always open to the beyond”.

It is increasingly clear that different fields of knowledge and different skills must find common spaces, places to share and compare, opportunities for mutual support.  

Human dignity

Archbishop Paglia warned that hyper-specialization, cultural predominance and lack of humanism, could make us accept answers that do not respect the dignity of human life. In the meeting between the humanities and high tech, there is a real place for ethical considerations (What is good?), and it is there that the challenge ethics gives to each of us (What can I and must I do?) takes on its full meaning.

 “Artificial intelligence must be at the service of human life, of every life, of the whole human family.”

Food sector benefits from AI  

The Vatican official noted that AI has changed and improved food production and distribution. It has created new jobs, optimized available resources, encouraged generous sharing of scientific and technological knowledge, helped improve storage capabilities and reduce waste,  and has created easier access to markets and financial services. These are vital to those areas where food production, distribution and markets are most subject to meteorological, economic, political, and societal risks.

However, Archbishop Paglia pointed out that a greater sense of responsibility is needed to apply these new technologies to the food sector, as it involves the fundamentals of every human life and also the future of the planet. 

Dangers

Speaking about human dignity, the archbishop said that when we speak about feeding the body, it means caring for every inhabitant of the planet in his or her absolute and irrepressible and singular God-given dignity, and not in terms of humanity in general or generic populations. 

In this regard, he said, widespread digitization and data processing needed for AI can expose individuals to risky and unacceptable testing processes, that can eliminate and marginalize the weakest among us.  

Culture and history

Archbishop Paglia said that while feeding bodies, we must ensure we do not lose their stories and cultures.  We have to avoid letting technology reduce food to a simply physiological fuel. Instead, the dinner table is a cultural treasure, a part of our lives, with its own traditions and rewards that need to be kept safe and multiplied.

The purpose of the September 24 webinar was to reinforce and build upon the Rome Call for AI Ethics endorsed by the Vatican and co-signed by FAO, IBM and Microsoft at a conference hosted by the Pontifical Academy for Life in the Vatican in February.

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