2024 World Communications Day: Reflecting On Pope’s Worries Over AI. BY RICHARD ODU

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Sunday, May 12, was this year’s World Communications Day, a day usually set aside by the Catholic Church worldwide to celebrate professionals in the business of communication, thus emphasizing the need for communication, especially mass communication, in the onerous task of evangelising a world easily drawn to evil and the pleasures of the flesh rather than the spirit.

Pope Francis, on this 58th World Communications Day, addressed the vexing issue of Artificial Intelligence (AI) as it affects spirituality and humanity under the theme, “Artificial Intelligence and the Wisdom of the Heart: Towards a Fully Human Communication.”

World trends has shown that the menace of AI as it pertains to falsehood and peddling of fake news and information should not actually be the exclusive worries of the pontiff who, in several ways, has demonstrated consciousness of the centrality of communication in his major preoccupation of seeing a Christlike society emerge from a debased world. The fast-deteriorating situation should rather worry the entire mankind most because the world needs to save itself from itself.

The mythical world of Atlantis,said to exist under the Atlantic Ocean, was said to have suffered the fate of getting buried under water because its inhabitants were toying dangerously with science and so they mysteriously got submerged. And the myth holds that the actors in that forgotten world are still living and suffering for their iniquities underwater. Real or imaginary, the myth of the Atlantis reminds us that every behaviour on earth has consequences.

Still relishing the good news of the confirmation of their auxiliary Bishop Simeon Okezue Nwobi as a substantive one that would be installed on June 20, this year, the Catholic Community in the Ahiara Diocese, on that Sunday, assembled media men of repute as well as those engaged in teaching future media men to dissect and discuss the pope’s message on the subject of AI. It was a culmination of a weeklong programme of activities, which happened in other Catholic dioceses.

After the deliberations during which various contributions of cerebral persons from the Clergy and the Laity, had been taken, one came away with a strong feeling that AI, truly improves life in many ways but definitely, at the same time, puts the globe on harms way with its negative capabilities. It is even more generous, particularly when it gets into the hands of unscrupulous persons who use it to distort facts.

The fears harboured by Pope Francis and the world in general over the menace of AI are real. In his address, the Pope admitted to being a victim of the mischief of AI and appealed strongly on the respect for ethics in its application. The observation was that the creation of highly sophisticated machines that surpass human intelligence in performing tasks can be abused by “the primordial temptation to become like God without God.”

Although he did not call for a complete stoppage of the emerging technological developments that have been with mankind for ages, the Holy Father expected people to “decide not to let AI (Artificial Intelligence) obliterate AI (Adamic Intelligence).” He advocated for growth in the wisdom of the heart which derives from God.

Yes, ethics is key to cubbing the excesses of this amorphous technological development because laws can hardly deter evil when conscience and consciousness for ethics are absent. That calls to question, the efforts of the churches in the latter days to mould the conscience of the people to the level at which adherents think twice before they embark on unethical behaviours.

Of note at the deliberations on the Pope’s message that took place in the Ahiara Diocesan compound was the observation of Monsignor Theophilus Nwalo. Perhaps the eldest priest in the diocese and an avid media practitioner right from the days before AI, Monsignor Nwalo had told the gathering that after the Civil war, the late Ukpabi Asika who was administrator of the old East Central State and his commissioner of education, Ofia Nwali, laid undue emphasis on science and technological education, relegating religion to the background.
According to him, the church did all in its capacity to let the all-powerful military administration realise the danger of removing religion from the minds of the younger members of the society. But the authorities were adamant, siezing all mission schools and bringing them under their rules and administration. This, in all probability, was the beginning of the erosion of conscience and ethics in the Nigerian society.

We now live in an age where mercantilism has engulfed the Church such that ministers gather people together in the church with the aim of taking as much money as they could get from the congregation, money they look forward to using to gratify their hedonistic tendencies. Little effort now goes into evangelism, especially at the catch-them-young level when the mind is malleable. Years back, in the Catholic Church, for instance, no child was allowed to joke with the Sunday evening class where morals and catechism were taught and learnt with devotion. At school, every day, the subject of religion was taught and examinations set on it. That way, the wisdom of the heart which the Pope had advocate is gradually injected into the child’s psyche, never to be erased easily.

The result of the abandonment of such forums for the inculcation of ethical behaviour in the child is the present-day Yahoo Yahoo boys and girls that are now ubiquitous in our surroundings. They are the misusers of AI facilities and they no longer weigh the moral sides of it before using AI for dubious purposes. Besides, there are concerns of impending job losses and the fear that robots are about to supplant human beings in various trades and professions.

On the part of law which, it has been agreed, might have no significant check on misuse of AI, the best that can happen could be in the likeness of the surgeon-general’s warning on cigarette packs that smokers are liable to die young. Producers of AI generated machines, software or hardware, should be compelled to place such a tag on their products to warn consumers.

The Church, worldwide, has an enormous task in its hands and a step to dealing with the task is to return to its main purpose of vigorous conscience building if they must help the world escape the impending cataclysm that AI is capable of leading it into. AI is what it is – artificial, meaning fake, false, non-natural. Can it then be said to be of God?

Dr. Odu can be reached through dirimrich2018@gmail.com

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