Maltese Association

Order of Malta


Fra’ John Dunlap writes to Pope Francis for 57th World Peace Day

January 1 2024 

Letter of the Grand Master Fra’ John Dunlap in response to Pope Francis’ message for 57th World Peace Day, celebrated on 1 January 2024

Most Blessed Father,

Thank you for also this year drawing the attention of the faithful, of the leaders and of the whole world to a theme of great and growing importance for Peace among humankind which obliges a very deep and very timely moral reflection.

As can be seen from Your Holiness’ profound message, Artificial Intelligence represents one of those great leaps in knowledge that have brought about radical changes in the life of women and men, such as the discovery of fire, the emergence of self-awareness, the invention of firearms, the control of nuclear fission and the Internet. But Artificial Intelligence is radically and fundamentally different from these epochal developments. It is a beneficial tool to encourage research in many fields of knowledge and human endeavour, but it also has the potential to replace not only the intelligence, but even the hearts of humans, depriving them of final decisions on life and death. There is a risk, as Your Holiness has masterly pointed out, that machines run by AI will be entrusted with tasks previously entrusted to humans, to their capacity for evaluation and to their conscience.

Evolved to a point in which, in specific sectors, the evaluation capabilities of the machine will be greater than those of humans (as they already are in many fields), the inevitable laws of survival will mean that the machine is entrusted with the ultimate decisions on the use of armaments, including nuclear weapons. Is it conceivable that decisions on the reaction to a possible nuclear attack, to be taken very quickly, should be entrusted to a leader, who like all of us can have moments of fatigue, confusion or panic?

Over ten years ago, when the progress of Artificial Intelligence was far from what it is today, La Civiltà Cattolica was already writing about the risks presented by autonomous weapon systems and I believe all of us should be grateful for the farsighted attention with which the Holy See follows software system development and its impact on people, on their conscience and on the survival of the human race and of that Man who received and accepted the Message of Christ. Across the Atlantic, there is a line of thought that humans endowed with advanced artificial intelligence (AI 2.0) will essentially become “hybrid beings”, different and superior to other human beings. New opportunities are arriving, but also immense new moral, social and epistemological problems in which we seem to be navigating through very dense fog.

Unfortunately, as Your Holiness knows better than us, this is a time when swords do not turn into ploughshares, but ploughshares into swords. There is a risk that Artificial Intelligence, as is already happening today with social media and with widespread software tools, will be used for geopolitical purposes. A risk that is already certain today and that the control systems so discussed in the United Nations and the European Union will find it difficult to control effectively. It is striking that the same creators and manufacturers of Artificial Intelligence, for example at OpenAI recently, are stressing the risks that an unregulated development of Artificial Intelligence could cause to security, the social balance and the freedom of humankind.

It is with this awareness, but also with the confident hope that comes to us from the Lord and mindful of the reflections and warnings expressed in Your Holiness’ Message on the World Day of Peace, that I will request all members of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem to pray with particular fervour for the cessation of the many bloody conflicts underway, for the creation of conditions that foster true and lasting Peace and for Your Holiness herself, who so often asks it of the Faithful and of those who have the joy of being received by Your Holiness.

With filial devotion,

Fra’ John Dunlap



'Casa Lanfreducci’ - 2, Pjazza Jean de Valette, Valletta VLT 1104, Malta