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Principles over Algorithms: Eddie Fenech Adami’s Enduring Legacy

Eddie Fenech Adami and Artificial Intelligence

Eddie Fenech Adami’s tenure as Prime Minister of Malta stands as a beacon of how Christian Democratic principles guided a nation through transformative epochs.  As Prime Minister, he navigated Malta through pivotal changes in the 1980s and 1990s, and much of his political philosophy has direct applicability to the dawn of the digital and Artificial Intelligence (AI) era. 

The trajectory of his government, was deeply rooted in the values of social justice, economic equity and the moral imperative of solidarity, which, I believe, are the foundational framework for integrating technology with human-centric values

As we venture further into the age of AI, how can we prioritise the common good, safeguard human dignity, ensure social justice and equitable access to technological advancements? 

AI is reshaping every facet of our lives. It permeates our choice of food, partner, music or asset purchase (all equally simple through the swipe of an app). Algorithmic ingeniousness is changing how we run elections, publish news and solve large societal issues ranging from cancer to global warming. And with this great power comes the necessity of political action.

The philosophical underpinnings of Christian Democracy which guided Fenech Adami’s politics, offer a compelling ethical framework for navigating our contemporary technology challenges. The principles expounded by Fenech Adami, and originally developed by Italian thinkers—Luigi Sturzo, Amintore Fanfani, Giorgio La Pira, and Aldo Moro—provide timeless insights into the moral imperatives of solidarity, social justice, and the common good. Their ideas, while rooted in the early to mid-20th century, have surprising relevance to today’s debates on AI ethics.

The concept of solidarity, a cornerstone of Christian Democratic thought, emphasises the interconnectedness of individuals within society. In the context of AI, this principle demands a commitment to developing technologies that serve the collective welfare, ensuring that AI advancements contribute to societal benefits rather than exacerbating inequalities. The challenge lies in designing AI systems that prioritise human dignity and the common good over profit maximisation, echoing Luigi Sturzo’s advocacy for political and social systems that respect individual freedoms while promoting community well-being.

… Political action is not just about taking power, but about transforming society based on principles of justice and solidarity.

La libertà in Italia – Luigi Sturzo, Torino, Gobetti, 1925

This key principle made its way into the political rhetoric of Fenech Adami’s Partit Nazzjonalista and its basic principles of governance. Fenech Adami reinterpreted the concept of solidarity to mean that no person should be left behind (“… biex had ma jibqa’ lura…” This became a common strap-line in his speeches, archived here). In a world increasingly shaped by digital innovation, it becomes imperative for public policy to embrace a new goal: guaranteeing universal access to technology while equipping every citizen with the skills essential for thriving in a digital economy. This commitment extends beyond mere access; it is a pledge to prevent any community from descending into a state reminiscent of a bygone era, where access to transformative innovations is severely limited. Such a commitment ensures that no segment of society is left behind in the march towards progress, thereby radically enhancing the quality of life for all citizens. This approach underscores the belief that in the digital age, inclusivity and empowerment are not just ideals but essential pillars for a just and prosperous society.

Amintore Fanfani’s critique of economic systems solely focused on profit, parallels contemporary concerns about AI-driven marketplaces. His call for a “third way” that harmonises economic activity with moral values suggests a path for AI development that balances innovation with ethical considerations, ensuring technologies foster economic equity and social cohesion. In a 1963 speech, Fanfani explained that technology should be used to bridge the gap between the powerful and the weak, not to widen it. Similarly Giorgio La Pira’s writings on peace and social justice extend to the AI discourse through the lens of global cooperation in norm creation. His writings are chillingly contemporary in their understanding that technology may dismantle societal paradigms rather than support human flourishing.

Today’s rapid AI advancements bring to the fore questions of privacy, equity, and the future of work—challenges that resonate with the Christian Democratic ethos of prioritising human welfare in policy and practice.

The philosophy’s emphasis on the dignity of the individual and the importance of social solidarity provides a moral compass for AI regulation, advocating for technologies that enhance rather than undermine human rights .

In Eddie Fenech Adami’s public address of 15th March 1987 in Sannat, Gozo, he stated: 

id-dinjità ta’ bnedmin… dinjità ta’ bnedmin ħielsa, dinjità ta’ bnedmin li jekk tneħħilhom il-libertà tagħhom tagħmilhom xi ħaġa differenti minn kif għandha tkun in-natura tagħhom ta’ bnedmin

– Eddie Fenech Adami

Fenech Adami’s effort to intertwine the concepts of dignity and liberty reflects a profound philosophical underpinning that resonates deeply within Christian Democratic thought. These concepts are related because dignity – understood as the inherent worth and respect owed to every individual – serves as a foundational principle for liberty, which is the freedom to pursue a life of one’s choosing within the bounds of a just society.

The connection between dignity and liberty can be traced to the belief that every person has an intrinsic value that must be recognised and protected by society. This recognition forms the basis for granting individuals the freedom to make choices about their lives—choices that reflect their unique identities, values, and aspirations. Without a fundamental respect for individual dignity, liberty becomes meaningless, as freedom without respect for the inherent worth of the person is neither true freedom nor conducive to a flourishing society. Thus, dignity ensures that the exercise of liberty is aligned with the ethical treatment of all individuals, safeguarding against exploitation and abuses that can arise in the absence of such a moral framework.

When considering the implications of these concepts for AI, several key dimensions emerge. First, the development and deployment of AI technologies must respect human dignity by ensuring that AI technologies do not infringe upon the rights, freedoms, or well-being of individuals. This includes considerations around privacy, autonomy, and the potential for AI to perpetuate biases or inequalities that could undermine human dignity.

Second, the principle of liberty demands that AI be used to enhance, rather than restrict, individuals’ freedom to make choices about their lives. This includes ensuring that AI systems empower people rather than leading to increased surveillance, control, or manipulation that could constrain human liberty. Harvard’s Professor Zuboff has warned of this existing manipulation in her seminal book ‘The Age of Surveillance Capitalism‘ in which she denounces the emerging of a “radically disembedded and extractive variant of information capitalism” based on the commodification of “social reality” and its transformation into behavioural data for analysis and eventual commercialisation. In this reality, humans lose much of their privacy and agency over decision-making.

Furthermore, the integration of dignity and liberty into AI ethics calls for a participatory approach to technology governance, where diverse stakeholders have a voice in shaping how AI is developed and used in society. This participatory approach ensures that AI technologies reflect the values and needs of the community, promoting a more equitable and just application of these powerful tools.

One of Fenech Adami’s most known tenets relates to the belief that good will ultimately prevail, and that in this context ‘good’ is understood to have a universal truth which itself rejects subjective morality. [See background on this here].

The philosophy of rejecting subjective morality, emphasises universal moral principles over individual or culturally-specific relative moral judgments which typically lead to the atomisation of society rather than its growth through principles of unity. This philosophical stance asserts that there are objective moral truths that should guide human behaviour and decision-making, a viewpoint that becomes crucial when developing and implementing AI systems.

Eddie Fenech Adami: “Ma Eddie is-sewwa jirbah”

In the context of AI, the rejection of subjective morality underscores the need for guidelines and standards that are not solely based on individual preferences, or sectoral cultural biases. Instead, it advocates for grounding AI ethics in universal principles such as fairness, justice, respect for human dignity, and the promotion of the common good. These principles serve as a stable foundation for creating AI systems that are ethical, transparent, and accountable, ensuring that they benefit humanity as a whole and avoid harm.

The rejection of subjective morality facilitates the establishment of a global approach to AI governance, promoting international cooperation and consensus on how AI technologies should be developed and used. This is crucial for addressing cross-border issues, especially in the military use of AI and genetic bio-engineering which could radically change humanity.

The European Union’s Artificial Intelligence Act (AI Act) represents a landmark effort to regulate AI systems within the EU, setting out rules and standards designed to ensure that AI technologies are indeed developed and used in a safe, transparent, and accountable manner. Several principles embedded within the EU AI Act can be seen as consistent with the idea of rejecting subjective morality, emphasising instead a commitment to objective and universal standards of ethical AI use, such as the protection of fundamental rights, including privacy, non-discrimination, and freedom of expression. By codifying these protections, the AI Act insists on absolute objectivity in the respect for human rights in the development and deployment of AI, rejecting the notion that such rights can be subjectively interpreted or prioritised differently by various stakeholders.

The task ahead for policymakers, technologists, and society at large is to channel moral principles into actionable guidelines and policies for AI. This involves creating a framework that not only encourages innovation but also demands accountability, transparency, and a commitment to respect human dignity and autonomy. By drawing on the rich legacy of Christian Democratic thought, we can possibly forge a path toward an AI future that upholds the key principles of solidarity, social justice, and the common good.

In this vision, the intersection of traditional ethical frameworks with contemporary technological challenges offers a beacon of hope. It is a reminder that, even in the face of rapid innovation, the age-old values of compassion, equity, and mutual respect can guide us toward a just and humane digital future in which no one is left behind.

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