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Pope Francis meets with Trudeau, warns leaders to approach AI responsibly

Pontiff delivers address about the promises and perils of artificial intelligence
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, meets with Pope Francis during the G7 Summit in Savelletri Di Fasano, Italy on Friday, June 14, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Pope Francis met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday at the G7 summit, where the pontiff warned leaders about the dangers of artificial intelligence and counselled them to centre humanity in its development.

Francis became the first pope to address G7 leaders, offering an ethical take on an issue that is increasingly on the agenda of international summits, government policy and corporate boards alike.

Leaders of outreach countries, who arrived at the summit on Friday, also attended the address. Among those leaders were Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Argentine President Javier Milei and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

That marked the first time the Canadian and Indian leaders have been in the same room since Trudeau accused Modi’s government of being involved in the killing of a Sikh activist, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, in British Columbia.

Trudeau made the shocking revelation in the House of Commons last September. Four Indian nationals have since been arrested and charged with Nijjar’s murder.

Francis said politicians must take the lead in making sure AI remains human-centric, so that decisions about when to use weapons or even less-lethal tools are always made by humans and not machines.

“We would condemn humanity to a future without hope if we took away people’s ability to make decisions about themselves and their lives, by dooming them to depend on the choices of machines,” he said.

“We need to ensure and safeguard a space for proper human control over the choices made by artificial intelligence programs: Human dignity itself depends on it.”

Francis was invited to attend the second day of the summit in Apulia, Italy, by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

Trudeau met with Francis before his address Friday afternoon. The prime minister was expected to speak to him about advancing reconciliation and advocate for the return of Indigenous artifacts held in the Vatican Museum.

The first day of the summit was dominated by news that the leaders will deliver a US$50-billion loan to Ukraine using interest earned on profits from Russia’s frozen central bank assets as collateral.

Canada, for its part, has promised to pitch in up to $5 billion toward the loan.

Trudeau met with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Friday morning and was scheduled to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida later in the day.

Trudeau was in a working session on migration in the morning while leaders will hold a working luncheon on the Indo-Pacific and economic security.

Migration is a priority for summit host Italy and its right-wing government, which is seeking to increase investment and funding for African nations as a means of reducing migratory pressure on Europe.

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