Pope discusses ethics of artificial intelligence with Microsoft chief

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Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith meets with Pope Francis at Saint Martha's House at the Vatican

Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith meets with Pope Francis at Saint Martha's House at the Vatican, February 13, 2019. Vatican Media/Handout via REUTERS

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Microsoft President Brad Smith met Pope Francis on Wednesday to discuss the ethical use of artificial intelligence and ways to bridge the digital divide between rich and poor nations, the Vatican said.

The head of the global tech giant and the 81-year-old Roman Catholic leader, who once said he is a "disaster" when it comes to technology, spoke for about 30 minutes in the pontiff's residence.

The pair discussed "artificial intelligence at the service of the common good and activities aimed at bridging the digital divide that still persists at the global level", according to a statement.

Smith, 60, told the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano in an interview that "strong ethical and new, evolved laws" were needed so that technological advances such as artificial intelligence do not fall into the wrong hands.

The Vatican said its Academy for Life would jointly sponsor a prize with Microsoft for the best doctoral dissertation in 2019 on the theme of "artificial intelligence at the service of human life".

(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)