Vatican to host first ever hackathon to tackle global issues

Inspiration for the event came from Pope Francis's remark in a first-ever papal “Ted Talk” video published last year

The Vatican is to host its first hackaton this week, aiming to help leaders develop technological approaches to the needs of social inclusion, interfaith dialogue, and migrants and refugees.

A “hackathon” is a hacking marathon: a collaborative computer programming event in which a group works under a tight deadline to find software or programming approaches to real-world problems.

The event, VHacks, will be held on Mark 8-11, where around 120 young adult programmes, graphic designers, project managers, and others from around the world will spend 36 hours “hacking” together over the course of three days.

Students from about 50 universities around the world will be amongst those taking part.

“The aim is to bring people with backgrounds in technology, business, civil society and the humanities together to bring new perspectives to key global issues,” said Father Eric Salobir, a Catholic priest and president of the research and innovation network Optic.

The VHacks event is being organised in partnership with some of the world’s biggest tech companies, including Google and Microsoft.

It is being organized by a group of Harvard and MIT students, the Vatican Secretariat for Communication, and OPTIC, a global think-tank working on ethical issues related to disruptive technologies.

Jakub Florkiewicz, co-chairman of VHacks and a student at Harvard Business School, told CNA via email that the hackathon’s mission is “to inspire young people around the world to collaborate across divisions and to use technology to address social issues.”

“We think that technology could improve the scale and efficiency of those organizations which offer support and help to those in need.”

Inspiration for the event came, in part, from a remark from Pope Francis in a first-ever papal “Ted Talk” video published last year. He said: “How wonderful would it be if the growth of scientific and technological innovation would come along with more equality and social inclusion.”

 The pope has spoken of the potential of technology and science to increase knowledge and understanding, but has also urged innovation to be coupled with equality and social inclusion.

He has previously warned young people of the limits of tech-based interactions, saying social media are no substitute for human connection, and he has highlighted the risks as well as benefits of artificial intelligence.

This year he told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland: “Artificial intelligence, robotics and other technological innovations must be so employed that they contribute to the service of humanity and to the protection of our common home, rather than to the contrary. It is vital to safeguard the dignity of the human person.”