The decision by the Vatican to join IBM and Microsoft in calling for facial recognition regulation is an important step in the faith community’s much-needed voice in the ethics of technology. Facial recognition cannot be left unexamined and unregulated because of its proximate risks to human rights and civil liberties. The fact of governments or private companies collecting, stockpiling, processing, and even in some way exercising control over the human visage itself is a call to engagement for all of us. Clearly the rapid deployment of facial recognition is raising alarms for many, including leading companies such as IBM and Microsoft, who recognize that even while companies may profit from innovation and invention, certain things belong to all of us as human beings such as own human facial characteristics and expressions. In some larger way, technology also ought to belong to all of us.
As giant leaps forward in technological innovation occur almost daily, the need for faith leaders to speak in the voice of our traditions is becoming increasingly urgent. Faith leaders bring forward not only many of humanity’s eternal truths, but our histories lay bare many of humanity’s past errors.
Amidst the push and pull between business, government regulators, and advocacy groups, there is an urgent need to keep our eye on the fundamental, eternal questions of human beings living on the planet in a positive, constructive, pro-social fashion. Technology must be in service of humanity, not the other way around. We must also stay grounded in the comprehension that humanity in service of technology is not a science fiction concept, but rather a concrete matter of whether the interests of a company or government purveying a technology can be allowed to supersede the human rights and liberties for which so many have fought and continue to struggle to maintain. The questions are practical and immediate as the Pope’s document indicated.
We live in a time of rapid change and we can choose to respond with fear, or with an insistence that the potentialities of the technological age be directed in ways that make life healthier, more peaceful, and happier for all. Human history has shown that left alone and unchecked, disruptive technological leaps forward will benefit the few before they live up to their immense potential to benefit us all. The Pope has set a worthy example for people of conscience, no matter what our beliefs and philosophies, to follow.