The Malta Independent 13 June 2024, Thursday
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AI and the wisdom of heart

Monday, 13 May 2024, 10:23 Last update: about 1 month ago

Charles Buttigieg

Pope Francis, who will be intervening in the session devoted to Artificial Intelligence (AI) at the G7 Summit of 13-15 June to be held in Italy, dedicates today’s message for the World Day of Social Communication to the theme Artificial Intelligence and the Wisdom of the Heart: Towards a fully human communication.

Knowing very well that the development of systems of artificial intelligence is radically affecting the world of information and communication, and through it, certain foundations of life in society, the Pope is seeking to urge humanity to cultivate wisdom of the heart which can help us “to put systems of artificial intelligence at the service of a fully human communication”.

At this time in history, which risks becoming rich in technology and poor in humanity, says Pope Francis, 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.” 

The Pope sees wisdom of the heart as “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”.

Pointing out that such wisdom cannot be sought from machines, the Holy Father adds that although the term “artificial intelligence” has now supplanted the more correct term, “machine learning”, used in scientific literature, the very use of the word “intelligence” can prove misleading.

“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. It is not simply a matter of making machines appear more human, but of awakening humanity from the slumber induced by the illusion of omnipotence, based on the belief that we are completely autonomous and self-referential subjects, detached from all social bonds and forgetful of our status as creatures.”

AI 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.

“It is important therefore to understand, appreciate and regulate instruments that, in the wrong hands could lead to disturbing scenarios. 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,” writes Pope Francis.

The Pope appeals 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, he stresses that as in every human context, regulation is, of itself, not sufficient.

Pope Francis goes on to state that the use of artificial intelligence can make a positive contribution to the communications sector, provided it does not eliminate the role of journalism on the ground but serves to support it. Provided too that it values the professionalism of communication, making every communicator more aware of his or her responsibilities, and enables all people to be, as they should, discerning participants in the work of communication.

The Pope refers to a long list of questions that arise in the face of the challenges presented by artificial intelligence. He maintains that the answers we give to these questions will determine if artificial intelligence will end up creating new castes based on access to information and thus giving rise to new forms of exploitation and inequality. Or, if it will lead to greater equality by promoting correct information and a greater awareness of the epochal change that we are experiencing by making it possible to acknowledge the many needs of individuals and of peoples within a well-structured and pluralistic network of information.

“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,” the Holy Father said.

Cautioning that the answer we give to these questions is not pre-determined and depends on us, the Pope offers the following advice: “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.”

In conclusion, the Pope says that lest our humanity loses its bearings, “let us seek the wisdom that was present before all things: it will help us also to put systems of artificial intelligence at the service of a fully human communication”.


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