Message from the Holy Father Francis for the 58th World Communications Day, 01/24/2024

Message from the Holy Father Francis for the 58th World Communications Day, 01/24/2024

Artificial intelligence and wisdom of the heart
for fully human communication

Message from the Holy Father Francis for the 58th World Communications Day, 01/24/2024

We publish below the Message of the Holy Father Francis for the 58th World Day of Social Communications, which this year is celebrated in many countries on May 12, on the topic: Artificial intelligence and wisdom of the heart: for fully human communication.

Message from the Holy Father

Artificial intelligence and wisdom of the heart
for fully human communication

Dear brothers and sisters:

The evolution of so-called "artificial intelligence" systems, which I already reflected on in my recent Message for the World Day of Peace , is also radically modifying information and communication and, through them, some of the foundations of civil coexistence. It is a change that affects everyone, not just professionals. The accelerated spread of surprising inventions, whose operation and potential are indecipherable for most of us, arouses an astonishment that oscillates between enthusiasm and disorientation and inevitably places us in front of fundamental questions: what then is man? What is its specificity and what will be the future of this species of ours called homo sapiens, in the era of artificial intelligence? How can we remain fully human and guide the ongoing cultural change towards good?

Starting from the heart

First of all, it is advisable to clear the ground of catastrophic readings and their paralyzing effects. A century ago, Romano Guardini, reflecting on technology and man, urged us not to become rigid in the face of the “new” in an attempt to “preserve a world of infinite beauty that is about to disappear.” However, at the same time he strongly warned prophetically: “Our place is in the future. Everyone must seek positions where each one belongs […] , we will be able to achieve this objective if we cooperate nobly in this enterprise; and at the same time, remaining, in the depths of our incorruptible heart, sensitive to the pain produced by the destruction and the inhuman behavior that is contained in this new world. And he concluded: «It is true that these are technical, scientific and political problems; but it is necessary to resolve them by considering them from the human point of view. "A new humanity of profound spirituality, of a new freedom and inner life must emerge." [1]

In this era that risks being rich in technology and poor in humanity, our reflection can only start from the human heart. [2] Only by providing ourselves with a spiritual gaze, only by recovering a wisdom of the heart, will we be able to read and interpret the novelty of our time and rediscover the path of fully human communication. The heart, biblically understood as the seat of freedom and the most important decisions in life, is a symbol of integrity, unity, while it evokes affections, desires, dreams, and is above all the inner place of encounter with God. The wisdom of the heart is, therefore, that virtue that allows us to intertwine the whole and the parts, decisions and their consequences, capabilities and frailties, the past and the future, the I and the we.

This wisdom of the heart can be found by those who seek it and can be seen by those who love it; It anticipates those who desire it and goes in search of those who are worthy of it (cf. Wisdom 6:12-16). He is with those who allow themselves to be advised (cf. Prov 13:10), with those who have a docile heart and listen (cf. 1 Kings 3:9). It is a gift of the Holy Spirit, which allows us to see things with the eyes of God, understand links, situations, events and discover their meaning. Without this wisdom, existence becomes insipid, because it is precisely wisdom — whose Latin root sapere is related to flavor — that gives pleasure to life.

Opportunity and danger

We cannot expect this wisdom from machines. Although the term artificial intelligence has supplanted the most correct term used in scientific literature, machine learning , the very use of the word “intelligence” is misleading. Without a doubt, machines have an immeasurably greater capacity than humans to store data and correlate it with each other, but it is up to man, and only him, to decipher its meaning. It is not, then, a question of demanding that machines appear human; but rather to awaken man from the hypnosis into which he has fallen due to his delusion of omnipotence, believing himself to be a totally autonomous and self-referential subject, separated from all social ties and alien to his creatureliness.

Indeed, man has always experienced that he cannot be self-sufficient and tries to overcome his vulnerability using any means. Starting with the first prehistoric artifacts, used as an extension of the arms, passing through the means of communication used as an extension of the word, we have reached today the most sophisticated machines that act as an aid to thought. However, each of these realities can be contaminated by the original temptation to become like God without God (cf. Gen 3), that is, to want to conquer by one's own strength what, instead, should be welcomed as a gift of God and lived in relationships with others.

Depending on the orientation of the heart, everything that is in the hands of man becomes an opportunity or a danger. Your own body, created to be a place of communication and communion, can become a means of aggression. Likewise, every technical extension of man can be an instrument of loving service or hostile domination. Artificial intelligence systems can contribute to the process of liberating ignorance and facilitate the exchange of information between different peoples and generations. They can, for example, make accessible and understandable an enormous wealth of knowledge written in bygone eras or enable people to communicate in languages they do not know. But at the same time they can be instruments of “cognitive contamination,” of altering reality through partially or totally false narratives that are believed—and shared—as if they were true. Just think about the problem of misinformation that we have been facing for years in the form of fake news. [3] and that today uses deepfakes , that is, the creation and dissemination of images that seem perfectly plausible but are false (I have also been the object of this), or audio messages that use the voice of a person to say things he has never said. Simulation, which is the basis of these programs, can be useful in some specific fields, but it becomes perverse when it distorts the relationship with others and reality.

Since the first wave of artificial intelligence, that of social media, we have understood its ambivalence, realizing both its potential and its risks and pathologies. The second level of generative artificial intelligence marks an indisputable qualitative leap. Therefore, it is important to have the ability to understand, understand and regulate tools that in the wrong hands could open adverse scenarios. Like everything that has come from the mind and hands of man, algorithms. Therefore, it is necessary to act preventively, proposing models of ethical regulation to curb the harmful and discriminatory, socially unjust implications of artificial intelligence systems and counteract their use in the reduction of pluralism, the polarization of public opinion or the construction of a unique thought. Therefore, I renew my call urging "the community of nations to work together to adopt a binding international treaty that regulates the development and use of artificial intelligence in its many forms." [4] However, as in any human field, regulation alone is not enough.

Grow in humanity

We are called to grow together, in humanity and as humanity. The challenge before us is to make a qualitative leap to live up to a complex, multi-ethnic, pluralistic, multi-religious and multicultural society. It is up to us to question ourselves about the theoretical development and practical use of these new instruments of communication and knowledge. Great possibilities for good accompany the risk that everything becomes an abstract calculation, that reduces people to mere data, thought to a scheme, experience to a case, good to a benefit, and above all that we end up denying the uniqueness of each person and their history, dissolving the concreteness of reality into a series of statistics.

The digital revolution can make us freer, but certainly not if we allow ourselves to be trapped by the media phenomena today known as the echo chamber . In such cases, instead of increasing information pluralism, we run the risk of getting lost in an unknown swamp, serving the interests of the market or power. It is unacceptable that the use of artificial intelligence leads to anonymous thinking, to an assembly of uncertified data, to a collective neglect of editorial responsibility. The representation of reality in big data , however functional it may be for the management of machines, in fact implies a substantial loss of the truth of things, which makes interpersonal communication difficult and threatens to damage our own humanity. Information cannot be separated from the existential relationship: it implies the body, being in reality; It requires relating not only data, but also experiences; It requires the face, the look and the compassion more than the exchange.

I think about the reports of wars and the “parallel war” carried out through disinformation campaigns. And I think about how many reporters are injured or killed in the field to allow us to see what their eyes have seen. Because only by touching the suffering of children, women and men can we understand the absurdity of wars.

The use of artificial intelligence can contribute positively to the field of communication if it does not nullify the role of journalism on the ground, but, on the contrary, supports it; if the professionalism of communication increases, holding each communicator responsible; if it returns to each human being the role of subject, with critical capacity, regarding the same communication.

Questions for today and tomorrow

Thus, some questions arise spontaneously: how to protect the professionalism and dignity of workers in the field of communication and information, along with that of users around the world? How to guarantee the interoperability of platforms? How to ensure that companies that develop digital platforms take responsibility for what they disseminate and from which they make profits, in the same way as traditional media editors? How can we make more transparent the criteria on which indexing and deindexing algorithms and search engines are based, capable of exalting or canceling people and opinions, stories and cultures? How to guarantee the transparency of information processes? How to make the authorship of the writings evident and the sources traceable, avoiding the cloak of anonymity? How to show whether an image or video portrays an event or simulates it? How to prevent sources from being reduced to a single, algorithmically elaborated thought? And how to foster, instead, an environment that preserves pluralism and represents the complexity of reality? How to make this powerful, expensive and energy-intensive tool sustainable? How can we also make it accessible to developing countries?

Based on the answers to these and other questions, we will understand if artificial intelligence will end up building new castes based on the dominance of information, generating new forms of exploitation and inequality; or if, on the contrary, it will bring more equality, promoting correct information and greater awareness of the changing times we are experiencing, favoring listening to the multiple needs of people and peoples, in an articulated and pluralistic information system . On the one hand, the specter of a new slavery looms, on the other, a conquest of freedom; on the one hand, the possibility of a few conditioning the thinking of everyone, on the other, the possibility of everyone participating in the elaboration of thought.

The answer is not written, it depends on us. It is up to man to decide whether he becomes food for algorithms or instead feeds his heart with freedom, that heart without which we would not grow in wisdom. This wisdom matures by taking advantage of time and understanding weaknesses. It grows in the alliance between generations, between those who have memory of the past and those who have a vision of the future. Only together does the capacity to discern, to monitor, to see things from their fulfillment grow. In order not to lose our humanity, let us seek the Wisdom that is prior to all things (cf. Si 1:4), which passing through pure hearts makes friends of God prophets (cf. Wis 7:27). It will also help us guide artificial intelligence systems towards fully human communication.

Rome, in Saint John Lateran, January 24, 2024


[1] Letters from Lake Como , Pamplona 2013, 101-104.

[2] In continuity with the Messages of the previous World Social Communications Days , dedicated to meeting people where they are and how they are (2021), listening with the ears of the heart (2022) and speaking with the heart (2023) .

[3] “The truth will set you free” ( Jn 8, 32). Fake news and peace journalism. Message from the 52nd World Communications Day, 2018 .

[4] Message for the Celebration of the 57th World Day of Peace (January 1, 2024), 8.