Catholic News Services
VATICAN CITY — While artificial intelligence can be a formidable tool to facilitate communication and exchange information, it cannot provide the uniquely human wisdom needed to promote the good of people and their communities, Pope Francis said.
“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,” the pope wrote in his message for World Communications Day, which will be celebrated May 12.
Using artificial intelligence for the good of humanity 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,” the pope said.
The theme for the 2024 world day is “Artificial Intelligence and the Wisdom of the Heart: Toward a Fully Human Communication.” Pope Francis also dedicated his message for the church’s celebration of World Day of Peace Jan. 1 to “Artificial Intelligence and Peace.”
The pope’s message was released Jan. 24, the feast of St. Francis de Sales, patron saint of journalists.
“At this time in history which risks becoming rich in technology and poor in humanity, our reflections must begin with the human heart,” he wrote. “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.”
“Such wisdom cannot be sought from machines,” the pope added.
Artificial intelligence systems can make knowledge from the past more accessible or connect people who do not share a common language, but it is also a source of “cognitive pollution” that produces partially or entirely false narratives that are broadcast as truth, he said.
The pope warned against the danger of fake news and deepfakes — the intentional manipulation of one’s likeness using generative technology — noting that he, too, has been subjected to the phenomenon.
In March 2023, Pope Francis was the subject of an AI-produced image which showed him in a white puffer jacket by luxury fashion brand Balenciaga. The image went viral on Twitter (now known as X) with the original post receiving more than 20 million views. The comments made clear that many people thought the image was real.
The pope also expressed concern over the current development of algorithms, which he said “are not neutral.”
Societies need to act “preventatively” and establish regulations for algorithm use “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, polarizing public opinion or creating forms of groupthink,” he said.
Pope Francis also said that with its potential to imprison people in echo chambers online, artificial intelligence could work against the “complex, multiethnic, pluralistic, multireligious and multicultural society” that humanity is challenged to form.
Artificial intelligence, he said, also is being used to fuel the “parallel war” of disinformation being fought on top of armed combat, and he said that only through “direct contact with the suffering of children, women and men, can we come to appreciate the absurdity of wars.”
In addition, the pope said AI 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.”
Pope Francis ended his message listing various questions still to be considered in the development of artificial intelligence, including: “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?”
“The answers we give to these and other 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,” he wrote.
Whether or not humanity develops a greater awareness of the “epochal change that we are experiencing,” he said, will determine if artificial intelligence becomes “a new form of slavery” in which “a select few can condition the through of others,” or a means of freedom by which “all people can participate in the development of thought.”