Pope Francis’ warning cry against a “new slavery”

In a long reflection on artificial intelligence and its effects on communication and society, on January 24, 2024, the Pope warns against the “spectre of a new slavery” and against the “possibility of some conditioning the thinking of all” .

On January 1st, in your message for World Peace Day, the pontiff had already addressed the problem of artificial intelligence, urging governments to regulate its use at an international level through a treaty. When renewing this appeal, he states that “regulation is not enough” in a new four-page text, published on this celebration of Saint Francis de Sales, patron saint of journalists and communicators.

In this philosophical meditation, the pope observes that the “accelerated diffusion” of inventions linked to artificial intelligence is radically modifying information and communication and, through them, “some of the foundations of civil cohabitation”. He insists that this change “affects everyone” as it concerns the future of humanity and its very nature.

The pontiff, however, warns of the “paralyzing effects” that a catastrophist reading of the phenomenon could cause. He invites us, therefore, not to “advance against the new”, but rather to “steer the current cultural change in the right direction”.

Our time, Pope Francis believes, is “rich in technology and poor in humanity”, but reflection on artificial intelligence must begin “from the heart of man”. Unlike machines, this “wisdom of the heart”, inspired by the “Holy Spirit”, allows us to “weave the whole and the parts, the decisions and the consequences, the heights and weaknesses, the past and the future, the ‘ I’ and the ‘we’”, he insists.

The pontiff recognizes the superiority of machine learning technologies in terms of memorization and data processing, “but it is up to man and him alone to decipher their meaning”, he assures. And, he warns, “it’s not about demanding that machines look human.”

“Algorithms are not neutral”

The Pope warns against man’s “hypnosis”, criticizing “his illusion of omnipotence” when he tries to “overcome his vulnerability by all means”. This “original temptation to become God without God”, which the Pope links to the story of Genesis, consists of “wanting to conquer by one’s own strength what should, on the contrary, be welcomed as a gift from God”.

“Algorithms are not neutral”, insists Pierre’s successor, who considers it important to be able to “understand, grasp and regulate them” so as not to run the risk of seeing them fall “into the wrong hands”. He warns in particular of the risk of “cognitive pollution” that artificial intelligence allows in the field of communication and the press.

Because these technologies allow men to “communicate in languages ​​they do not know”, but they can also facilitate disinformation with “fake news” – or audio or visual “hyper-fakes”. The Pope also trusts have been the object of these misleading images – profoundly false – generated by AI.

The Pope also warns against the phenomenon of “echo chambers”, a mechanism that traps people in an “anonymous swamp, serving the interests of the market or power”, giving them only access to stereotypical information. “It is not acceptable that the use of artificial intelligence leads to anonymous thinking, a montage of uncertified data, a collective lack of editorial responsibility”, he insists. He warns that the lack of reaction to these realities raises the “spectre of a new slavery” by opening up the “possibility for some to condition the thinking of all”.

Information is relationship

The Pope insists that information must not be disconnected from its “relational” dimension that “implies the body, the being in reality” and must allow the transmission of not only data, but also “experiences”. He then contrasts the perverse effects of the “parallel war” of disinformation led by certain entities and “war reporting” that allows people to “touch the suffering” of conflict victims. He also pays tribute to the many journalists who died or were injured on the ground.

Without giving a definitive answer, the Pope concludes his text by listing some important questions that humanity must answer. about artificial intelligence : the protection of the professionalism of the information professions, the accountability of companies that develop platforms in relation to what they transmit there, the ecological sustainability of this “extremely energy-intensive” technology and its dissemination in developing countries. The Pope also calls for more transparency in the algorithms of platforms and search engines (in particular in the way data is indexed and de-indexed), in information processes and against anonymity.

Answering these questions, the Pope guarantees, could allow “to align even artificial intelligence systems in fully human communication. “It is up to man to decide whether he wants to become food for algorithms or nourish his heart with freedom, without which we cannot grow in wisdom”, he concludes.

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