Keep the human touch


8 May 2024

Humanity must harness artificial intelligence to serve communities and not allow it to distort our relationships with each other and the world.

In his yearly message for The World Day of Social Communications (12 May), Pope Francis usually reflects on the deeper questions underlying current issues. This year is no exception. He explores the recent developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI), situating them in their deeper context of human communication.

He has been preoccupied with AI, having previously discussed it in his Message for the World Day of Peace. There he reflected on the place that AI has in war making and could have in peace making. As he has done in other important addresses on contemporary issues, he appeals to a theologian of the early 20th century, Romano Guardini, to insist that we should respond to technological developments with open hearts and careful reflection on their capacity for harm or for help.

Pope Francis insists that AI must be seen primarily as a human and not merely a technological issue. We must bring wisdom of the heart to it. This refers to the deep place of our lives in which thought and feeling and our multiple relationships to the world are weighed and find issue in choice and judgment. Human intelligence is more than the collection and correlation of data and solving of technical problems that AI can do so well. AI is a good servant, but it cannot make human sense of the data it collects. To do that we need to reflect on how to use it for the good of humanity and not allow its use to distort our relationships to others and to the world. Still less should we see it as uncontrollable.

AI is a large step in human technology. If it is to be used well it will require similarly large growth in our humanity marked by complex and harmonious relationships in society. These are marked by compassion and sharing. In the coverage of war, for example, the truth of its absurdity is best conveyed by the human experience of reporters who are exposed to it, not by AI analyses of it.

Ultimately the growth of AI challenges us to grow in freedom. We can choose to be reduced to algorithms manipulated to serve others’ hidden interests or to increase our ability and opportunity to be discerning in seeking truth and goodness through human communication.

Seen from that perspective, the development of artificial intelligence presents risks of diminishing human life and opportunities to enhance it. It can drown us in information, present biased accounts of the world and make us sceptical about the search for truth.

It can be used to manipulate in order to amass wealth and consolidate power. It can also be used, however, to illuminate our world, clarify our decisions, strengthen our commitment to truth, free us from manipulation, and build relationships based not on power but on commitment to the common good.

In his portrayal of AI, Pope Francis encourages us to value our humanity and with confidence to take ownership of the tools that we make for the betterment of our lives and not for our enslavement.

Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ is an editorial consultant at Jesuit Communications
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