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Bishop Badejo on Pope’s Message for the 58th World Commuications Day


Artificial Intelligence and the Wisdom of the Heart:
Towards a Fully Human Communication

Thoughts on the Holy Father Pope Francis’ Message

By Bishop Emmanuel Adetoyese Badejo, Oyo Diocese, Nigeria

Responsible Creators Not Victims
Many useful reflections and designs have been made on the Holy Father Pope Francis’ message for the World Day of Social Communications (WDC) 2024 on the theme: “Artificial Intelligence and the Wisdom of the Heart: Towards a Fully Human Communication” I find some of the art designs quite instructive. One shows a human hand stretching from the sketch of a human face almost touching a robotic hand, stretching out from a robotic silhouette like the Michelangelo design of creation. Another puts a human face close to a robotic one and there are others expressing the same reality of the interface between human reality and that of technology. For me all depict our understanding that AI digital technology for all it is worth, cannot be divested from humanity and that it in fact depends on human beings. Communication and especially AI and digital communication spaces are not clerical or episcopal concerns but are concerns of humanity. That is why the Holy Father Pope Francis and the Church have raised our awareness to the necessity of understanding these systems and of engaging them correctly for the benefit of society and humanity. Some of the designs even tried to convey precisely, man’s creative responsibility for generative AI and other media technologies and the undeniable need to pay closer attention to their pervasive powers. Better put, that responsibility cannot be left only to the creators of the system. All of us affected by them must roll up our sleeves and get involved.

AI systems Are Not That New
In the Pope’s message for the 2024 WDC the Pope teaches that human beings have always realized that they are not self-sufficient and have sought to overcome their need for assistance and their vulnerability by employing every means available. From the earliest prehistoric artifacts, used as extensions of the arms, and then the media, used as an extension of the spoken word, we have now become capable of creating highly sophisticated machines that act as a support for thinking. Each of these instruments, however, can be abused by the primordial temptation to become like God without God (cf. Gen 3), that is, to want to grasp by our own effort what should instead be freely received as a gift from God, to be enjoyed in the company of others. It is important to say that AI has been around for much longer than we care to admit, in our cell phones, remote controls and computers. Only now it is more advanced and more impactful because it even assumes human features and behaviours.

Choose Informed Engagement Over Fear
Today the explosive pervasiveness of AI in business, economy, education, social relationships and even religion seems to have swept many off their feet and left many totally enchanted. Some even suggest that AI has become as powerful as to be seen as a religion in itself, seeming to be omnipotent, demanding allegiance and “worship” from people. We can identify two big extremes, of those who are totally dumbfounded and are infatuated by the new technology as a be-all and know-all and others who are so disgusted or frightened by the new developments as to demonize it and thus reject it altogether.

Going by the position of the Church over the centuries, none of both extremes is acceptable. Pope Francis, in fidelity to the Church’s teaching on science technology al through his message urges us not to reject AI but to engage with it. He asked that we “set aside catastrophic predictions and their numbing effects” and enter into this process with openness and sensitivity. We must keep the human being at the center of our reflections and activities, engage with the AI technology and manage it despite its power, in such a way that it does not result in a displacement or crushing of the human person and human relationships. For Christians (and other believers I suppose) I think this should not be impossible. When you have been raised on Divine (supernatural), intelligence by which I mean “faith in Almighty God, especially through Jesus Christ, artificial intelligence should not overwhelm or confound you. For Catholics particularly who are used to images and sacramentals and derive inspiration from them without deifying or worshipping them, it should be taken for granted that they would never worship AI. (man-made God, man-made God… I will never worship…).

Collaborate to Expose the Illusions
Be that as it may, it is good to note what the Holy Father said about the appearance and illusion of “intelligence”, crafted as AI whereas in reality we refer to “advanced machine learning” because tools, no matter how advanced they may be, can never have the reflective and affective character of the human being. It is for the same reason, that Professor Anthony Akinwale, during the open lecture for the 2024 WDC, organized by the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria preferred to speak of “mathematized informatics” rather than “Artificial Intelligence” because authentic intelligence can only be divine and human

Another illustration for this WDC, shows the Bishop with God’s people and the media, thus depicting the duty we all have to reflect together upon this new reality, in a synodal way and find the means to align it with the wisdom of our hearts. That speaks to us leaders of the Church in a particular way. This is the reason why all through this WDC week the Communications Directorate of Oyo diocese has spent time with different segments of people on radio and on other resources of the general public, to hear them out on their awareness of AI and to discuss the message of the Holy Father. This awareness will inform many about the gift of AI and reinforce them against the illusions it creates. That is also the reason we are sitting here the way we are today.

Media Workers Too Must Listen, Learn and Conform
In genuine African communication, leaders should “always monopolize the listening” in order to hear people from the heart. It is only with the heart that one can see rightly because what is most essential is often invisible to the eye. There is more to reality than can be discovered or managed by the senses. Man should not walk just by sight but by faith and spirit and more. When we think reality is only material, we can be easily deceived. We must always make references to our spiritual resources which are embedded in the heart.

To be a helpful ally, the media must not ape or add to the AI alarm and confusion all around but borrow from the Christian approach of keeping the ultimate good of man at the centre of everything. This is important because, according to Pope Francis, this time of history is right in technology and poor in humanity and our reflections and decisions must begin with the human heart. The inclination of the heart is the determinant for what we allow AI to become. We also must follow models of ethical regulation in order to prevent unpleasant and unwholesome outcomes from the advancement of this technology namely exploitation, instrumentalization and commercialization of humanity and human relationship.

Ethical Considerations Must Take Center Stage
Thus, the Pope guides us to decide not to let AI (Artificial Intelligence) obliterate AI (Adamic Intelligence) or enslave it. Also, we should not succumb to become fodder or victims of algorithms but insist on retaining our freedom to grow in the wisdom of the heart which derives from almighty God. The 2020 “Rome Call for AI Ethics” which is a commitment that “aims to foster a shared sense of responsibility for human dignity amid rapid technological advancements. It is a document published by the Pontifical Academy for Life and signed in 2022 by the three Abrahamic religions that “aims to foster a shared sense of responsibility for human dignity amid rapid technological advancements.
Archbishop Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, in endorsing the document signed by him in Rome on behalf of the Church of England said: “I am delighted to support the Rome AI Call, which emphasizes the dignity of every human being amid technological change,” He continued: “While we can’t predict the future, we do know that there will continue to be rapid developments in science and technology and we need to be prepared,” he noted. While recognizing the enormous potential AI can offer “in improving human capability”. He emphasized that we must also strive “to protect, preserve and cherish the dignity of the human person.” The enormous advances made in AI, therefore, “cannot be the sole property of its developers, or any single part of the human race,” but benefit all in serving the common good, safeguarding climate, and aiming at sustainable development.
Same thing the Pope said, concerning the journalism profession 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”.
Also, Fr. Paolo Benanti, Extraordinary Professor of Ethics of Technology at the Pontifical Gregorian University agreed and said “we can look with renewed confidence to algorethics, that is, to the positive contribution of the ethical approach to artificial intelligence. It is never merely a matter of innovation. Rather, it is about transforming the latter into human development. It is also very important that the heritage of human wisdom represented by religions speaks to the whole of humanity”

Theory Must Be Converted to Practice
We all must find practical ways of utilizing the beautiful insights of this WDC message and our reflections on the AI era. For example, Fr. Joel Nkongolo, a Congolese national and Claretian priest based in Nigeria said recently while speaking to Radio Vatican that integrating AI literacy into the curriculum can help students understand how AI works, its societal impacts, and ethical considerations. By empowering students to become responsible AI users and innovators, educators can effectively equip them to navigate the opportunities and challenges of the digital age.
We must heed the Pope’s invitation to prevent humanity from losing its bearing. We do that by seeking “the wisdom that was present before all things (cf Sirach 1: 4). Thus, we help equip our society for the present and the future, foster critical thinking, creativity and grow ethical decision-making skills. As the Pope emphasised, ‘it will help us to put systems of artificial intelligence at the service of a fully human communication.

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