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Wisdom of heart in the age of AI

In his Message for World Communications Day 2024 (Sunday 12th May) Pope Francis writes on the theme: Artificial Intelligence and the Wisdom of the Heart: Towards a Fully Human Communication.This is not the first time that Pope Francis has explored the impact of the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI). In his Message for  the World Day of Peace he writes about how AI is radically affecting the world of information and communication, and through it, certain foundations of life in society. He writes:

These changes affect everyone, not merely professionals in those fields [of Communications]. The rapid spread of astonishing innovations, whose workings and potential are beyond the ability of most of us to understand and appreciate, has proven both exciting and disorienting. This leads inevitably to deeper questions about the nature of human beings, our distinctiveness and the future of the species homo sapiens in the age of artificial intelligence.

How can we remain fully human and guide this cultural transformation to serve a good purpose?”

Pope Francis reiterates that at this time in history, which risks becoming rich in technology and poor in humanity, our reflections must begin with the human heart.

Only by adopting a spiritual way of viewing reality, only by recovering a wisdom of the heart, can we confront and interpret the newness of our time and rediscover the path to a fully human communication”.

He continues:

In the Bible, the heart is seen as the place of freedom and decision-making. It symbolises integrity and unity, but it also engages our emotions, desires, dreams; it is, above all, the inward place of our encounter with God. Wisdom of the heart, then, is the virtue that enables us to integrate the whole and its parts, our decisions and their consequences, our nobility and our vulnerability, our past and our future, our individuality and our membership within a larger community”.

Wisdom of heart

Such wisdom cannot be sought from machines. Although the term “artificial intelligence” has now supplanted the more correct term, “machine learning”, used in scientific literature. No doubt, machines possess a limitlessly greater capacity than human beings for storing and correlating data, but human beings alone are capable of making sense of that data.

Human beings have always realised that they are not self-sufficient and have sought to overcome their vulnerability by employing every means possible.

Depending on the inclination of the heart, everything within our reach becomes either an opportunity or a threat. Our very bodies, created for communication and communion, can become a means of aggression. So too, every technical extension of our humanity can be a means of loving service or of hostile domination. Artificial intelligence systems can help to overcome ignorance and facilitate the exchange of information between different peoples and generations”  [ … ]

“Yet, at the same time, they can be a source of “cognitive pollution”, a distortion of reality by partially or completely false narratives, believed and broadcast as if they were true. We need but think of the long-standing problem of disinformation in the form of fake news,which today can employ “deepfakes”, namely the creation and diffusion of images that appear perfectly plausible but false (I too have been an object of this), or of audio messages that use a person’s voice to say things which that person never said. The technology of simulation behind these programmes can be useful in certain specific fields, but it becomes perverse when it distorts our relationship with others and with reality”.

The need for ‘models of ethical regulation’

Like every other product of human intelligence and skill, algorithms are not neutral. For this reason, there is a need to act preventively, by proposing models of ethical regulation, to forestall harmful, discriminatory and socially unjust effects of the use of systems of artificial intelligence, and to combat their misuse for the purpose of reducing pluralism, polarising public opinion or creating forms of groupthink.

I once more appeal to the international community “to work together in order to adopt a binding international treaty that regulates the development and use of artificial intelligence in its many forms”. At the same time, as in every human context, regulation is, of itself, not sufficient.

All of us are called to grow together, in humanity and as humanity.

We are called to reflect carefully on the theoretical development and the practical use of these new instruments of communication and knowledge. Their great possibilities for good are accompanied by the risk of turning everything into abstract calculations that reduce individuals to data, thinking to a mechanical process, experience to isolated cases, goodness to profit, and, above all, a denial of the uniqueness of each individual and his or her story.

It is unacceptable (Pope Francis writes) that the use of artificial intelligence should lead to groupthink, to a gathering of unverified data, to a collective editorial dereliction of duty. The representation of reality in “big data”, however useful for the operation of machines, ultimately entails a substantial loss of the truth of things, hindering interpersonal communication and threatening our very humanity.

Information cannot be separated from living relationships. These involve the body and immersion in the real world; they involve correlating not only data but also human experiences; they require sensitivity to faces and facial expressions, compassion and sharing.

Questions for today and for the future

  • How do we safeguard professionalism and the dignity of workers in the fields of information and communication, together with that of users throughout the world?
  • How do we enable businesses that develop digital platforms to accept their responsibilities with regard to content and advertising in the same way as editors of traditional communications media?
  • How do we make more transparent the criteria guiding the operation of algorithms for indexing and de-indexing, and for search engines that are capable of celebrating or cancelling persons and opinions, histories and cultures?
  • How do we guarantee the transparency of information processing?
  • How do we identify the paternity of writings and the traceability of sources concealed behind the shield of anonymity?
  • How do we make it clear whether an image or video is portraying an event or simulating it?
  • How do we prevent sources from being reduced to one alone, thus fostering a single approach, developed on the basis of an algorithm?
  • How instead do we promote an environment suitable for preserving pluralism and portraying the complexity of reality?
  • How can we make sustainable a technology so powerful, costly and energy-consuming?
  • And, how can we make it accessible also to developing countries?

If, on the one hand, we can glimpse the spectre of a new form of slavery, on the other, we can also envision a means of greater freedom; either the possibility that a select few can condition the thought of others, or that all people can participate in the development of thought”.

In conclusion:

The answer we give to these questions is not pre-determined; it depends on us. It is up to us to decide whether we will become fodder for algorithms or will nourish our hearts with that freedom without which we cannot grow in wisdom. Such wisdom matures by using time wisely and embracing our vulnerabilities. It grows in the covenant between generations, between those who remember the past and who look ahead to the future. Only together can we increase our capacity for discernment and vigilance and for seeing things in the light of their fulfilment. Lest our humanity lose its bearings, let us seek the wisdom that was present before all things (cf.Sir 1:4): it will help us also to put systems of artificial intelligence at the service of a fully human communication”.

See https://www.cbcew.org.uk/wcd24-papal-message/

And Vatican News – Message by Pope Francis for WD of Social Communications 2024

Also, you can download the full document in pdf format HERE

And Pope Francis’ Message for WD Peace January 2024


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