Pope Francis on Thursday called for world leaders to adopt a global treaty on the use of artificial intelligence to ensure it is used in an ethical way.

The 86-year-old pontiff made the appeal in a six-page message published ahead of the Catholic Church's World Day of Peace on January 1, which this year is focused on the theme of AI.

While welcoming advances in science and technology that have reduced human suffering, Francis warned some discoveries have the effect of "placing in human hands a vast array of options, including some that may pose a risk to our survival and endanger our common home".

He highlighted the dangers of using AI, including in disinformation and interference in elections, and also to make decisions -- from social security payments to where to target weapons -- for which responsibility becomes blurred.

"In the quest for an absolute freedom, we risk falling into the spiral of a 'technological dictatorship'," he wrote.

He warned that those who design algorithms and digital technologies cannot be assumed to want to act "ethically and responsibly".

Instead, he called for "binding international treaty" to regulate the development and use of AI, with the goal of preventing harm and sharing good practice.

"Technological developments that do not lead to an improvement in the quality of life of all humanity, but on the contrary aggravate inequalities and conflicts, can never count as true progress," he wrote.

Concerns about AI have increased since the chatbot ChatGPT, a mass-market gateway to generative AI, exploded onto the scene in late 2022.

The European Union is working on a broad law covering the sector, while Chinese legislation specifically regulating generative AI came into force in August this year.

US President Joe Biden also issued an executive order on AI safety standards in October.

Pope Francis himself has been the subject of several AI-generated images, including one that went viral, showing him wearing a huge white puffer coat with a large crucifix hanging over it.