Eight Catholic universities from across the globe wrap up a two-day conference in Milan, and develop a five-year strategy to educate young people and pursue research about the social impact of artificial intelligence.
The international network SACRU organized a two-day scientific colloquium at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in the Italian city of Milan. Over 80 professors and researchers from eight Catholic universities in Chile, Spain, Australia, the US, Japan, Portugal, Brazil, and Spain met to discuss the challenges and opportunities presented by advances in artificial intelligence (AI). Experts attending the conference entitled “The Future of Catholic Universities in the AI Age” hailed from various disciplines of the humanities and the sciences.
End to division of sciences and humanities
In their various discussions on 13-14 July, the researchers drew the conclusion that AI will lead to multidisciplinary overlap between hard sciences and social sciences. Prof. Marco Carlo Passarotti, a professor at the Sacred Heart University, said the separation between humanities and science disciplines is likely to be relegated to the past due to the application of AI. “Humanists have always made use of data,” noted Prof. Passarotti in a SACRU press release, “but they have never had such a large amount of data at their fingertips and such a quality of massive processing.” AI advances also present new challenges to researchers, without threatening to obliterate their role. “This computational breakthrough,” he said, “puts data and correlations between data in their hands like never before. And it makes their work replicable.”
Steering AI development ethically
The SACRU professors agreed that AI can enable people to achieve a greater understanding of the world and themselves, if it is used correctly and ethically. Universities offer a means to embrace the evolution of AI technologies and employ them in ways that put human beings at the center. “Catholic universities have a strong duty to inform about the impact of AI,” said Prof. Passarotti, “making it crucial to recognize and harness that impact to steer AI development towards an approach that is willing to respect human dignity, to avoid delegating moral responsibility to machines.”
Mission to educate in age of AI
In response to the challenges presented by AI, the SACRU network has formulated a fiveyear strategy to educate young people and foster cooperation among the eight Catholic universities. Prof. Pier Sandro Cocconcelli, Vice Rector of the Sacred Heart University and Secretary General of SACRU, said the conference focused on how to embrace the shifting technological landscape within the educational sector. “The eight universities share a common mission and vision: to educate the younger generations and to produce research that has a true impact on society,” he said. The results from the conference will be compiled and published later in the year, in order to present to the public the universities’ proposals on how to adapt their teaching and research missions to the age of AI.
SACRU (Strategic Alliance of Catholic Research Universities) is a network of eight Catholic Universities on four continents—coordinated by the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan—cooperating together with the aim of promoting global education for the common good and interdisciplinary research inspired by Catholic social teaching. The network was founded in 2020. It includes the Australian Catholic University (Australia), Boston College (USA), Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (Chile), Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Sophia University (Japan), Universidade Católica Portuguesa (Portugal) and Universitat Ramon Llull (Spain).