Eamon Martin says AI, digital media and machine algorithms must be employed ethically

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Archbishop Eamon Martin has spoken of the need for humility in the employment of Artificial Intelligence (AI) after Pope Francis published a new message on the rapid advancement of technology and its implications for the media.

The Derry primate spoke of the opportunities and dangers of machine learning in an age of computer and communications revolution.

He was speaking as Pope Francis published ‘AI and the Wisdom of the Heart: Towards a Fully Human Communication’ – a message in advance of the 58th World Day of Communications in May.

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In it, the Pope states that the term AI has supplanted the ‘more correct term machine learning’.

Archbishop Eamon MartinArchbishop Eamon Martin
Archbishop Eamon Martin

Acknowledging the positive potential of machine tools he nonetheless warns algorithms need to be employed ethically under what he describes as an ‘algorethical’ framework.

"AI systems can help to overcome ignorance and facilitate the exchange of information between different peoples and generations,” the message states, yet cautions ‘they can be a source of cognitive pollution, a distortion of reality by partially or completely false narratives, believed and broadcast as if they were true’.

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"We need but think of the long-standing problem of disinformation in the form of fake news, which today can employ ‘deepfakes’,” adds the Pope.

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Archbishop Martin said: “Pope Francis’ message is timely and will assist all who wish to navigate the complex digital media and AI space in an ethical manner.

"This guidance by Pope Francis will inform clergy and Catholics around the world in terms of harnessing AI to optimally promote the mission of the Gospel in what is now a very competitive social media environment that is populated by content created by humankind and by machines.

“In today’s message, Pope Francis reflects on the implications of AI, and asks, ‘how can we remain fully human and guide this cultural transformation to serve a good purpose?’

"In answering this question, Pope Francis notes, ‘at this time in history, which risks becoming rich in technology and poor in humanity, our reflections must begin with the human heart...Wisdom of the heart, then, is the virtue that enables us to integrate the whole and its parts, our decisions and their consequences, our nobility and our vulnerability, our past and our future, our individuality and our membership within a larger community.’

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“Pope Francis further reminds us that, ‘it is up to us to decide whether we will become fodder for algorithms or will nourish our hearts with that freedom without which we cannot grow in wisdom’, and that, ‘Only together, can we increase our capacity for discernment and vigilance and for seeing things in the light of their fulfilment.’”

He concluded: “In his message for the World Day of Peace on January 1, Pope Francis noted that if artificial intelligence is used well, ‘it could introduce important innovations in agriculture, education and culture, an improved level of life for entire nations and peoples, and the growth of human fraternity and social friendship.’

"He adds that, ‘the way we use it to include the least of our brothers and sisters, the vulnerable and those most in need, will be the true measure of our humanity.’

"He therefore highlights the need for what he calls ‘algorethics’ – cross disciplinary ethical dialogue, especially on the values which will shape the direction taken by new technologies, including AI.”