Microsoft President, Pope Talk AI

Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith and Pope Francis met for 30 minutes on Wednesday (Feb. 13) to discuss “artificial intelligence [AI] at the service of the common good, and activities aimed at bridging the digital divide that still persists at the global level.” The meeting took place in the Pope’s residence, according to Reuters. Smith told the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano that “strong ethical and new, evolved laws” were necessary to make sure that technology such as AI is used with good intention.

The Vatican also announced that its Academy for Life would sponsor a prize with Microsoft for the best doctoral dissertation in 2019 on “artificial intelligence at the service of human life.”

While the Pope has joked that he is a “disaster” when it comes to technology, he has made it a point to promote the use of it for the greater good. Last year, the Pope invited computer hackers to the Vatican to participate in a computer programming marathon to help provide better resources for migrants and the poor.

The first “Vatican Hackathon” (VHacks) focused on solving problems related to solidarity in a digital world, communication in interfaith dialogue and mobilization of resources for migrants. The event was sponsored by major tech companies, including Google, Microsoft, Salesforce, TIM and pro-bono institutions, such as The Foundation for the Evangelization through the Media (FEM).

“In the public’s mind, hacking is something done by a group of people trying to break into computers, usually for nefarious purposes. They could be criminals or political operatives, or people working for an adversarial company or country that wants to cause some mischief. Or they could be spies,” said Kevin McKee, faculty advisor for a high school hacking team in Santa Barbara, CA. “But that’s only one small facet of what hacking is. Another, much wider facet is that it’s a system where people are prompted and encouraged to create new and exciting solutions to problems. Frequently, young people do this in an organized fashion called hackathons.”