Address to the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life
28 February 2020
The issues with which your Academy has been concerned since its inception present themselves today in a new way. The biological sciences are increasingly employing devices provided by artificial intelligence. This development has led to profound changes in our way of understanding and managing living beings and the distinctive features of human life, which we are committed to safeguarding and promoting, not only in its constitutive biological dimension, but also in its irreducible biographical aspect. The correlation and integration between life that is “lived” and life that is “experienced” cannot be dismissed in favour of a simple ideological calculation of functional performance and sustainable costs. The ethical problems that emerge from the ways that these new devices can regulate the birth and destiny of individuals call for a renewed commitment to preserve the human quality of our shared history.
For this reason, I am grateful to the Pontifical Academy for Life for its efforts to develop a serious reflection that has fostered dialogue between the different scientific disciplines indispensable for addressing these complex phenomena.
I am pleased that this year’s meeting includes individuals with various important roles of responsibility internationally in the areas of science, industry and political life. I am gratified by this and I thank you. As believers, we have no ready-made ideas about how to respond to the unforeseen questions that history sets before us today. Our task is rather one of walking alongside others, listening attentively and seeking to link experience and reflection. As believers, we ought to allow ourselves to be challenged, so that the word of God and our faith tradition can help us interpret the phenomena of our world and identify paths of humanization, and thus of loving evangelization, that we can travel together. In this way we will be able to dialogue fruitfully with all those committed to human development, while keeping at the centre of knowledge and social praxis the human person in all his or her dimensions, including the spiritual. We are faced with a task involving the human family as a whole.
[…] In our common pursuit of these goals, a critical contribution can be made by the principles of the Church’s social teaching: the dignity of the person, justice, subsidiarity and solidarity. These are expressions of our commitment to be at the service of every individual in his or her integrity and of all people, without discrimination or exclusion. The complexity of the technological world demands of us an increasingly clear ethical framework, so as to make this commitment truly effective.
The ethical development of algorithms – algor-ethics – can be a bridge enabling those principles to enter concretely into digital technologies through an effective cross-disciplinary dialogue. Moreover, in the encounter between different visions of the world, human rights represent an important point of convergence in the search for common ground. At present, there would seem to be a need for renewed reflection on rights and duties in this area. The scope and acceleration of the transformations of the digital era have in fact raised unforeseen problems and situations that challenge our individual and collective ethos. To be sure, the Call that you have signed today is an important step in this direction, with its three fundamental coordinates along which to journey: ethics, education and law.