Professor Donoghue gives address on Brain Computer Interfaces at the Vatican

Wyss Center Director invited to Pontifical Academy of Sciences at Vatican City

Wyss Center Director Professor John Donoghue participated in a workshop at the Vatican that brought together leading scientists to address complex questions in the area of AI.

The two-day meeting, which took place from 30 November – 1 December 2016 in the Pontifical Academy of Sciences within the gardens of the Vatican, featured short presentations on the topic of ‘Power and limits of artificial intelligence’ and in-depth scientific discussions about the future of humans and artificial intelligence (AI).

Participants were asked to consider whether the outcome of interactions between humans and AI may soon defy our understanding and produce radical changes in our personal and social lives.

In his address, Professor Donoghue spoke about the limits and future potential for brain computer interfaces.

Participants also discussed questions including:

Will machines soon surpass us in all domains of human competence?

What is consciousness?, Could a machine be endowed with an artificial consciousness?

‘Is it possible to design and construct an intelligent robot endowed with an artificial sense of ethics?

How can we enhance the humanitarian uses of artificial intelligence and robotics, in particular in the field of education, health and emergencies?

In his address to participants in the Plenary Session of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, His Holiness Pope Francis said:

“In the Encyclical Laudato Si’ I stated that “we are called to be instruments of God our Father, so that our planet might be what he desired when he created it and correspond with his plan for peace, beauty and fullness” (53). In our modern world, we have grown up thinking ourselves owners and masters of nature, authorized to plunder it without any consideration of its hidden potential and laws of development, as if subjecting inanimate matter to our whims, with the consequence of grave loss to biodiversity, among other ills.

We are not custodians of a museum or of its major artefacts to be dusted each day, but rather co-operators in protecting and developing the life and biodiversity of the planet and of human life present there. An ecological conversion capable of supporting and promoting sustainable development includes, by its very nature, both the full assuming of our human responsibilities regarding creation and its resources, as well as the search for social justice and the overcoming of an immoral system that produces misery, inequality and exclusion.”

The proceedings of the working group will be published online at and printed as a book.