Dear Professors, Your Excellencies, My Dear Friends, The past year has been intense and rich in the life of each one of us and in the life of the Academy. I thank you sincerely, first of all for your continuing scientific work. Precisely because it is a labor-intensive search for truth, it serves human life. Thank you for your research, your publications, the many events you have promoted or participated in, and for the working groups within the Academy.
This wide-ranging, expert and passionate research activity is the first and truly precious service that every Member of the Academy renders to the Church and to the whole world. For the Academy itself, the time since our last Annual Meeting has been particularly intense and eventful. It was the year of our Twenty-Fifth Anniversary, and to commemorate it Pope Francis wrote us the letter entitled Humana Communitas, which is the most recent of the many messages that the Popes have addressed to the Academy in recent years and that we have collected in a fully-indexed volume that will be released in the next few days.
Unfortunately, this year we were saddened by the death of Cardinal Elio Sgreccia who for many years devoted himself generously to our Academy and to the advancement of the science of Bioethics. We will celebrate his life and service together this afternoon. Professor Spagnolo will speak on behalf of all of us, and I thank him even now for the worthy tribute he will offer. Care and accompaniment in the passage of death Caring for life as it prepares to cross the threshold of death and the ethical issues surrounding that passage have for certain been central to the research and collaborative activities of the Academy. I will review only this year’s most noteworthy events. They are the result of significant shared research and fully deserve to be given special recognition. Last September, in the Vatican, representatives of the three Abrahamic religionssigned a joint declaration on end-of-life issues (it was the first time this had ever happened).
I believe this event is important for two reasons. First, in a time when debate on this crucial aspect of human existence is debated so hotly all over the world, a common and concordant message from the leaders of three great religions is particularly strong and effective. Second, we have seen that when the real lives of men and women are placed at the center of attention, interreligious dialogue is not only possible, but it bears ripe fruit as well. This Declaration would not have been possible without the work of our Member, Rabbi Steinberg, whom I thank from the bottom of my heart. His contribution makes it clear how appropriate it was to appoint as members of the Academy representatives of different religions. I want to point out as well that the Declaration had already been signed by representatives of the three Abrahamic religions in Buenos Aires, thanks to the effective mediation of our Member Bishop Bochatey.
Another example of cooperation between differing traditions and cultures that I would like to recognize is the Conference on elder health (with particular attention to palliative care) that we conducted with the World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH), the healthcare arm of the Qatar Foundation. -2- Other unforgettable initiatives were the preparation and international presentation of the White Book on palliative care (now translated into four languages), the formation of a study group on neonatal intensive care, and cooperation with the Presidents of a number of universities to ensure that palliative care is given appropriate inclusion in medical school curricula. Likewise in the area of palliative care, I want to mention: the conference in Portugal at which the President of that country and the worldwide President of the World Medical Association will participate; and another meeting with university Presidents in Milan during March. We are also available to promote and organize new opportunities for additional signings of the inter-religious Declaration on the end of life. Some additional other activities The excellent cooperative relationship we have with the World Medical Association has also made it possible to organize here in Rome next May a study day on the topic of vaccines.
The spread of the corona virus has made that initiative very timely, and I want to take a moment to remember the Chinese, Korean, Iranian and Italian victims of this disease and to pray the Lord of Life for them and their families. With them we also remember those who die every day from diseases that we do not yet know how to cure, and we pray for that multitude of sick people who die because the injustice in our life styles and social relationships denies them access to existing and effective treatment. I would also like to mention the international conference on “synthetic biology” to be conducted in cooperation with a network of scientific institutions coordinated by the University of Basel (Switzerland) and the Holy See’s Bambino Gesù Hospital in Rome, scheduled for next November 16-18. The goal of the conference is to deepen the scientific, socio-political and ethical aspects of the interventions that can be performed -3- at the molecular level on living organisms.
This is a topic that is receiving a lot of attention today and it will experience significant development in the near future. The course of General Assemblies: robots, AI, consultation The Meeting that we are opening today required significant preparatory work—reflection, listening and comparison—with a surprising multiplicity of participants. As you remember, we began our journey last year with the Workshop on Robo-ethics. The recently published Proceedings of that meeting are in the materials you have received. In the next few days we will work from that existing framework as we begin a consideration of Artificial Intelligence. The power and pervasiveness of the new technologies that surround us call for in-depth anthropological and ethical reflection that is capable of dealing with both the impressive pace of scientific progress and that exquisitely human wisdom, without which we risk extremely serious dehumanization. Fortunately, awareness of this challenge is growing, both among Christians and among those whose culture is far from the Christian experience. It was thanks to the encouragement given to us by Pope Francis in Humana Communitas that we began to study the question of Artificial Intelligence. We have adopted a threefold methodology: First, we had to begin to study new issues that many of us know nothing about; then we had to explore a new language in which to try to re-articulate a vision of man; finally, we had to find common ground on which to make dialogue possible among all who are active in this vast new field. This has been a difficult task. Many of you have shared our journey and I thank you today most sincerely.
I believe that our threefold new approach: finding common themes, common language and common experiences, is the great challenge that the Academy faces today. It will -4- irreversibly affect the work of the Academy in the coming months, and it may enable us to mark the 25th Anniversary of the Encyclical Evangelium Vitae with actual results and not just celebrations. I would also like the this threefold methodology to characterize the theme of next year’s Annual Meeting, which will be held from the 15th to the 17th of February 2020. This decision is important because it says to the whole Church and to the scientific world what the Academy considers to be crucial. With that background, we want to ask you what you think are the most relevant issues for the men and women of today. Where is the protection and promotion of human life most at risk, most needed, today ? Where can we best implement the instructions that Pope Francis has given us, following the three guidelines he formulated in Humana Communitas: — the key linking between the body and life, the influence of new technologies, and global bioethics? Please try to address these questions, and suggest one or more issues from which our Board can choose for study over the coming year, and send them to us by the end of March.
The “Call for AI Ethics” As a final point, I want to come back to the theme of the Meeting that we are beginning today, and tell you about a new initiative. Our work on Artificial Intelligence has led us to add a special event that will take place on Friday morning. As you can see from the program, the final session of the Workshop will be devoted to an overview of the ethics of Artificial Intelligence. The Speakers on Friday will be some of the true world leaders in the field, both commercial and academic. The presence of the leaders of Microsoft and IBM, from whom we have not sought any financial contribution, is the result of an intense process of listening and dialogue.
The outcome of that process was the decision to launch a “Call for ethics”— a statement of ethical commitment — which will have as its first signors the President of Microsoft, Brad Smith, the Executive Vice -5- President of IBM, John Kelly III, and the Director General of the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, QU Dongyu. In addition, the presence at Friday’s exceptionally important ceremony of the leader, David Sassoli, of institution like the European Parliament, shows the importance and the possibilities of the event we have been working on. The Charter, The Rome Call for AI Ethics, is not an official text of the Academy. Certainly, it is something that we proposed and that I am endorsing, but it takes its vitality from the relationships and support among all those who have been working on it. Those who sign it commit to following in a shared way their research and practice with respect to the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence.
With this initiative, the Academy is not creating commercial partnerships, it is not marrying or sponsoring anyone. Rather, it shares, prudently, a journey with others who have an honest desire to better understand how to promote the good of humanity and to take some steps in that direction, being willing to examine their practices critically and bear the costs resulting from their commitment. The text is the result of a dedicated work participated in by some of the world’s leading experts on the subject and by some of our Members. The document was submitted to the Holy See Secretary of State for approval, and to the various other dicasteries that deal with the issues considered. At our audience with Pope Francis on Friday morning we will present to him the fruit of our labor. The text consists of a preamble, in which the shared need for a more in-depth reflection on the topic is presented, and three chapters where concrete commitments in the field of ethics, law and education are examined. The text ends with six concise principles, which all the signatories commit to in the design, development and use of their artificial -6- intelligence systems: Transparency, Inclusion,Responsibility,Impartiality,Reliability, Security and Privacy. The text of the Call is under strict embargo until Friday (this is the reason why it was not possible to distribute it today), but thereafter it is intended for widespread distribution and will become truly effective to the extent that it has many additional signatories incorporations,international agencies, governments and regulatory bodies.
I believe that urging leaders in technological innovation to make a specific and public ethical commitment is a true exercise of the defense and promotion of human life — one of the ways in which we fulfill our mission. Furthermore, and in particular because it is a summary text, the Call offers essentially a list of issues for scientific study within the separate themes. Thus, in addition to its commitment to work with the initial signers to increase the total number of those who commit to the Call, the Academy will work in the coming months to have universities and research centers all over the world, independently or in shared projects, promote scientific reflectiononspecific aspects ofArtificial Intelligence Ethics. As always, suggestions from our Members will be especially welcome. New members The breadth and scope of the Academy’s mission calls for an increasingly qualified and coordinated action. During the past two years, the Board has appointed, on your recommendations, several Corresponding Members and Young Researchers. We will now present them to you one at a time, conferring on them the insignia that expresses their commitment that is both demanding, and, I believe, exciting. Among the group -7- is Prof. Stefano Semplici, the new head of the group of Young Researchers. He succeeds Prof. Ferrari, who, because of his new responsibilities in European Union government, is unable to continue in office. To them both, to the new Members, to all of you, my deepest thanks and my very best wishes for success in your service.