Business and Ethics

Leadership Around Tech and Ethics

Written by Tina Potterf

January 17, 2024

Father Benanti on stage at Ethics and Tech conference
Father Paolo Benanti at SU's Ethics and Tech conference.

Father Paolo Benanti, an expert on AI and ethics in Rome, is coming to Seattle University as a distinguished visiting professor. 

At Seattle University’s first Ethics and Tech Conference, one the presenters among thought leaders in tech and artificial intelligence—and their intersection with ethics—was Father Paolo Benanti, a professor in Rome and a Rome Call for AI Ethics Advisor to Pope Francis.

Father Benanti is returning to Seattle University later this year as a Distinguished Visiting Professor to support SU’s Ethics and Technology initiative at the invitation of President Eduardo Peñalver and Provost Shane P. Martin. Fr. Benanti, who was just nominated as the new president of the Artificial Intelligence Commission on Information in Italy and is a member of the United Nations Advisory Body on Artificial Intelligence, will be on campus for a one-month stint beginning in late July 2024.

As Distinguished Visiting Professor he will engage with students, faculty, staff and community members to enhance the university’s work on ethics and AI and how SU can be a leading voice in this ever-evolving global conversation. Engagement with the campus and greater community will come by way of presentations, workshops, panels and more. Additionally, Fr. Benanti will support faculty who work at the intersection of ethics and tech.

“The ethical use of technology is more important than ever, especially with the rise of artificial intelligence and ChatGPT. Jesuit institutions are uniquely suited to respond to the opportunities and challenges of emerging technologies, as they can serve the common good or be forces of harm,” says Provost Shane P. Martin. “Seattle University is very fortunate to have one of the world’s leading experts in ethics and technology join us as a distinguished professor. From this position Fr. Benanti will have great influence for our students, faculty and the various tech industries with whom we partner in our region.”

College of Science and Engineering Dean Amit Shukla, PhD, says Fr. Benanti’s visiting professorship is a testament to the university’s expansion of thought leadership around ethics and tech.

“Fr. Benanti is a global leader on ethics and AI. His leadership on ethical AI development, global policy frameworks and strategies to mitigate risks while maximizing AI’s potential for societal benefit is exactly what is needed in the current climate where technology is changing rapidly,” says Shukla. “We are delighted to host Fr. Benanti at Seattle University to engage our broader community around this topic as the greater Seattle area is the hot bed of innovation in AI.”

“I am very excited to be able to engage with the academic community of Seattle U and to undertake something that covers different disciplines,” Fr. Benanti says. “I am convinced that it will be a truly valuable experience for me and I am ready to contribute to the educational mission of Seattle U.”

While on campus for last year’s Ethics and Tech Conference Fr. Benanti, who teaches at the Pontificia Universita Gregoriana, was awarded the inaugural “Excellence in Ethics” award for his leadership on the important topics of AI and ethics. 

“This award is established with support from Microsoft to recognize an individual or group who represent the mission of Seattle University and contribute in a leadership capacity to embody our statement where innovation meets humanity,” says Shukla. “Fr. Benanti was awarded this award for his work on Rome Call for AI Ethics. His leadership on this topic has enabled a global effort to focus on humanity as we engage with exponential growth in AI.” 

What was Fr. Benanti’s takeaway experience from the conference, which explored the role of AI in preparing workers for short- and long-term success, the implications for the shifting educational landscape and the impact on the workforce? 

“A very important experience of international discussion among high-level players in the world of artificial intelligence,” says Fr. Benanti, who notes the conference was also an opportunity to grow professionally and enrich his work in the academic and tech communities.

Fr. Benanti says there are beneficial aspects to using AI and programs such as ChatGPT, particularly in university or other academic settings. 

“We have an urgent need to educate faculty and students about the nature of (artificial intelligence and ChatGPT) to ensure that they do not consider a kind of stochastic amplifier of words as a source of knowledge,” he says. “But criticizing this naive approach to ChatGPT is not enough. As academics we have the task of considering artificial intelligence systems. There are many of them and some of them are revolutionizing access to culture and information. Integrating them into teaching and research can be helpful in increasing their reach and depth. In this journey, we must never abandon ourselves to the machine—our task is always to stick to a deep path of discernment.”


The path of becoming an expert in ethics and tech began for Fr. Benanti as a university student. Before joining the Franciscans, he studied engineering and learned about scientific and technical language. Then he went on to focus on philosophy and theology in Assisi, continuing with a licentiate in moral theology at the Gregorian University. 


“Here I … experienced a true ‘University of Nations,’ in which the diversity of languages, human and ecclesial experiences and cultures produce encounters and mutual enrichment. I was able to develop an insight into current problems that later proved useful in approaching complex and global challenges such as those presented by artificial intelligences,” explains Fr. Benanti. “During a course of research, carried out in part at Georgetown University in the United States, I was able to bring to light a subtle challenge that was gradually becoming more intense and profound—in technological evolution we were witnessing a kind of confrontation between a machine, which seemed to humanize itself more and more every day, and a human, which seemed to understand itself more and more as a machine.”

After earning his doctorate Fr. Benanti started his teaching career, lecturing at the Gregorian and teaching courses on neuroscience, ethics and AI, among other subjects. 

“Today, this task, which I pursue with passion, allows me to share knowledge with students. I fully share the values of the Gregorian and the mission of the Jesuits to whom it is entrusted,” he says. “Universality and cura personalis can be valuable tools for a serene development and peaceful coexistence of different peoples in the face of the challenges of artificial intelligence.”