Pope Francis: Artificial Intelligence and Peace

5 Jan 2024 | Dialogue, Life, News, Spirituality

In his message on the occasion of the 57th World Day of Peace, Pope Francis chose to delve into the theme of artificial intelligence and its implications for the future of humanity. Paul O’Hara, Professor of Ontology and Scientific Rationality at the Sophia University Institute and Director of the “Piero Pasolini” Chair, helps us understand the significance of this choice.

By Paul O’Hara

“For the many people accustomed to the World Day of Peace being an occasion for the Pope to appeal for peace and condemn various ongoing wars, his message this year, focusing on artificial intelligence, might be something surprising or even disappointing. However, upon closer examination, it is a prophetic announcement that anticipates a potential source of divisions among individuals and even nations. As Pope Francis writes in his message, ‘Techno-scientific progress, by making possible the exercise of unprecedented control over reality, is placing in the hands of humanity a wide range of possibilities, some of which may pose a risk to survival and a danger to the common home [3].'”

First and foremost, it is important to be aware of the vast difference that exists between the human being, made in the image and likeness of God, and a machine, which is not conscious and possesses no free will. Artificial intelligence, even though it can be fascinating and generate texts similar to those produced by humans, such as ChatGPT, lacks inherent creativity. It operates based on mathematical algorithms that allow it to juxtapose the data in its (digital) memory according to the logic of its programming to respond to our questions. The value we attribute to the response of artificial intelligence depends on us. We decide whether we like it or not. We decide whether the response has value or not.

“Artificial intelligence cannot replace a human being in essential aspects of life, such as creativity, emotions, the desire to be someone and be known, responsibility for what we decide and do, our need for others and fraternity, and authenticity. The artificial intelligence manifested through computers, drones, robots, or mobile phones is the activity of a machine that has no self-awareness and no free will. It cannot love, hate, or experience feelings or emotions.

Even a robot that may appear autonomous is always programmed to do what we want, and it can “learn” only in the way determined by algorithms. The resemblance to a human being is not equivalent to being human. In fact, a machine itself is neither good nor bad; it can be used for good or evil, depending on the programs inserted and the intentions of those who control it from the outside.

In his message, Pope Francis encourages the use of technology for the good of humanity. However, he is also well aware that it could be used for harm, dividing people, families, and nations not only through the creation of ‘fake news’ but also through ‘discrimination, interference in electoral processes, the establishment of a society that watches and controls individuals, digital exclusion, and the intensification of an individualism increasingly disconnected from the community.’ He adds, ‘All these factors risk fueling conflicts and hindering peace.'”

“The Pontiff also highlights how the use of artificial intelligence today is often dominated by the military-industrial complex and those who intend to control and manipulate (through so-called ‘big data’) people’s daily lives in the fields of economics and through social media. ‘The immense expansion of technology must, therefore, be accompanied by adequate training in responsibility for its development,’ warns Pope Francis. ‘Freedom and peaceful coexistence are threatened when humans succumb to the temptation of selfishness, personal interest, the craving for profit, and the thirst for power. We have the duty, therefore, to broaden our perspective and guide technical-scientific research towards the pursuit of peace and the common good, in the service of the integral development of humanity and the community [7].'”.

Pope Francis concludes his message by urging ‘the Community of nations’ to develop an ethics – the ‘algor-ethics’ – that governs the use of artificial intelligence not only to avoid ‘bad practices’ but also to ‘encourage good practices.’

In this regard, the ‘Digital Oath’ project, born at the Sophia Institute, can be a good starting point to respond to the Pontiff’s call.

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