Paolo Benanti, Pope’s AI advisor, on ensuring that algorithms respect human dignity

Franciscan monk Paolo Benanti is the mastermind behind the Call from Rome, a pact to ensure artificial intelligence is developed with an ethical focus. He tells us why religions should be part of this conversation.


September 5, 2022

Nabil Nezzar

PAOLO BERANTI wakes up early in the monastery in Rome where he lives to start each day with prayer. So far, so conventional – for a monk. But outside the monastery, Benanti’s life is less typical. He trained as an engineer and ethicist, and now spends his time at the nearby Pontifical Gregorian University, where he teaches the ethics of artificial intelligence. He also visits Pope Francis himself frequently, for whom he has become a trusted advisor on AI.

It has become an important topic for the pontiff as he fears it will negatively affect the most vulnerable members of society and increase the already glaring inequalities in the world. To combat this, Benanti helped draft Rome’s Call, a pledge, signed in March 2020 by global technology companies IBM and Microsoft, that human dignity will always be a priority as AI is deployed around the world. With an expanded version of the pact currently in preparation, new scientist spoke with Benanti about the role of religions in controlling technology, whether an AI apocalypse is on the cards, and whether an algorithm could ever replace God.

Charlotte Lytton: Why did you become a monk?

Paolo Benanti: When I finished high school, I went to study engineering at university. But last year, before graduating, I decided to change my life and joined the [Franciscan] order. I’m curious about human nature, what it means to be human, and I was looking to understand reality. I realized that engineering was a good way to approach reality, but I started looking…

Sharon D. Cole