The Pope, AI, and Us

Santa Clara’s Markkula Center joins the Vatican in contemplating—what else?—the ethics of AI and other disruptive tech.

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ITEC Handbook can be downloaded for free via the Markkula webpage. Book cover courtesy Markkula Center.

Think of the latest technological developments that blew your mind—ChatGPT, the self-driving car, artificial intelligence-generated headshots of people that don’t actually exist—and the people who help explain those developments to the world. Pope Francis is likely not high on that list. But His Holiness and other Vatican leaders have plenty to say on ethics, so they’re leveraging their relationship with Santa Clara University to discuss how companies can ethically develop technology.

The Institute for Technology, Ethics, and Culture (ITEC) is a collaboration between the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics and the Vatican’s Dicastery for Culture and Education.

First up: a handbook on navigating the complex landscape of disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, tracking, and facial recognition.

Co-author Ann Skeet, Markkula’s senior director of leadership ethics, says while companies may adopt frameworks outlining what principles should be present around their tech usage—things like accountability and transparency—we’ve seen less consensus on how those principles should be applied.

For example, she says, “Google has AI principles that include ‘be socially responsible’ and has built a product that uses AI to produce news stories which could undermine the accuracy and nuance journalists bring to news stories and undermine the financial underpinning of the news industry.” It’s very difficult for even the most well-staffed, well-meaning companies to meet the high standards they set for themselves, Skeet says. The ITEC handbook is a tool offering additional guidance and encouragement.

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