Is It a Good Thing?

Today I would like to try something a little different.  I would like to examine the morality of something emerging in today’s technology.  I begin by proposing a question to you.  Do you want to grow in your faith?

I hope you said yes.  Now I will ask you how much effort are you willing to put into growing in your faith?

Do you remember Cliff Notes?  When you didn’t want to spend the time reading a book for yourself, they provided a summary for you.  I read the book for myself because I like to learn and I like to read.  Did you ever “cheat” on a book report and use Cliff Notes, or another summary?

Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) has been talked about for some time.  Now it is becoming real.  Do you have a report you need to read but you don’t have the time?  Perhaps you aren’t interested in reading the report but you need to know the highlights?  I recently saw an ad for A.I. software that will read the report for you and tell you the highlights.  I wonder what criteria it uses.

It makes me wonder if A.I. is a tool to help you do your work well or something for lazy people to do as little work as possible?  If the latter, is using A.I. flirting with the sin of slothfulness?  I also wonder if it is dehumanizing our work.  Worst of all, I wonder if it is dehumanizing us.

As we explore the ethics of A.I., we should ask the question what is A.I.  Here, I point to what Pope Francis wrote in his message for the 2024 World Day of Peace, “To date, there is no single definition of artificial intelligence in the world of science and technology. The term itself, which by now has entered into everyday parlance, embraces a variety of sciences, theories and techniques aimed at making machines reproduce or imitate in their functioning the cognitive abilities of human beings” (2).  The fact that we do not have a distinct definition of A.I. should cause us to ponder its boundaries.

Is A.I. good for people or does it contribute to the dumbing down of society?  Think of it this way, if everyone was supposed to read the same book and everyone used the same Cliff Notes resource instead of reading it for themselves, there would only be one way of looking at the book.  Add to that, no one would have put any thought into it for themselves.  Is this good for society?  Is it good for the individuals?

The same is true for using A.I.  We also need to ask who programmed the A.I. software.  What is their bias?  Are they liberal or conservative?  How does that affect the programming in the way it tells you what is important in the document?  Does the A.I. software read the document objectively or does it use criteria based on the programmer’s subjective opinion of what is good?

Now, everyone can have a bias but if we read a document for ourselves and are aware of who the author is, we can be aware of that bias.  For instance, when you read anything I write or watch one of my presentations, you can be assured that I do my best to provide the Catholic understanding of the topic that is in continuity with the Bible and traditional Catholic teaching.

So far, I have been referring to A.I. being used to read a document for us and provide highlights.  A.I. software also now exists that will write a document for you.  The same question applies, does this help you do your work well or is it a tool for lazy people?  If you are not a gifted writer, perhaps it can help you improve what you write.  Even then, one should ask the question, are you using the A.I. software to improve what you write or to have it do the work for you. 

I wonder about the human element.  The software I use to write a weekly email update to parishioners offers its A.I. software to write the email for me.  This would miss the personal connection I try to put in the emails.

In evaluating the ethics of A.I. software, I also bring in the software that people are using to create fake videos of people.  A talented computer user can now take your photo or a short video of you and make an extended video that appears to be you but says the very opposite of what you believe.  I hope you agree that this is definitely unethical.   I also believe it is unnecessary.  Why would anyone need the ability to create videos of a person saying something they didn’t say?  Is there any purpose to this besides deception?

Questions about the ethics of technology are not new.  Of course, modern technology is not discussed in the Bible but it is discussed in more recent church documents like Gaudium et Spes.  We read, “As a result of the latter, intellectual formation is ever increasingly based on the mathematical and natural sciences and on those dealing with man himself, while in the practical order the technology which stems from these sciences takes on mounting importance” (5).  Knowledge of the mathematical and natural sciences is good (remember I was an engineer!).  However, we must never lose sight of the human element in the work we do.  We must also consider the spirituality of our tasks. 

Gaudium et Spes later says, “Man judges rightly that by his intellect he surpasses the material universe, for he shares in the light of the divine mind” (15, my emphasis).  Perhaps key to our understanding the ethics of A.I. lies in the world “artificial.”  It is not part of the way God has created us.  It focuses on the material rather than the divine (transcendent).

Gaudium et Spes states “Indeed today’s progress in science and technology can foster a certain exclusive emphasis on observable data, and an agnosticism about everything else. For the methods of investigation which these sciences use can be wrongly considered as the supreme rule of seeking the whole truth. By virtue of their methods these sciences cannot penetrate to the intimate notion of things. Indeed the danger is present that man, confiding too much in the discoveries of today, may think that he is sufficient unto himself and no longer seek the higher things” (57). What Gaudium et Spes stated in 1965 about what technology misses is all the more true today.  God did not create us as robots.  He created us as human beings, body and soul.  To focus only on the material is to miss the core of who we are.  Can A.I. ever include the transcendent?

Recognizing the ethical questions of the use of A.I., Pope Francis chose Artificial Intelligence as the theme for his message for the World Day of Peace for 2024.  In paragraph 2 Pope Francis writes, “For the impact of any artificial intelligence device – regardless of its underlying technology – depends not only on its technical design, but also on the aims and interests of its owners and developers, and on the situations in which it will be employed” (my emphasis).  What is the developer’s bias?  What is their goal in developing their A.I. software?  Do they want to help you do your tasks well or do they want to pull you into their way of thinking?

Pope Francis continues, “Nor is it sufficient simply to presume a commitment on the part of those who design algorithms and digital technologies to act ethically and responsibly. There is a need to strengthen or, if necessary, to establish bodies charged with examining the ethical issues arising in this field and protecting the rights of those who employ forms of artificial intelligence or are affected by them” (2).  We must examine the ethics of A.I. before using it and continually examine the ethics as its use develops.  For example, in paragraph 6, Pope Francis cautions against how A.I. can lead us to become detached from the devastation of war.  The computer can fight a war without any regard to the human lives involved.

I hope this has made you think about the ethical use of A.I.  Do you use A.I. to help you do a task?  Are you aware of the programmers’ goals and bias.  Do you A.I. to get out of doing a task, putting in the least effort necessary? 

God has given us both “faith” and the use of “reason.”  We should not hand the task of reason over to A.I. software.  God wants us to think for ourselves in accord with the faith that He has given us and what He has revealed to us in his truth.  I hope and pray that you seek to grow in his truth and are willing to put effort into it.


Fr. Jeff


Pope Francis, “Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for the 57th World Day of Peace, January 1, 2024, Artificial Intelligence and Peace.”  Published December 8, 2023. .

Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.  December 7, 1965.


  1. Carol H Clendenin on 05/17/2024 at 5:41 am

    Thanks Fr. Jeff for your thoughtful and well-written commentary on Artificial Intelligence. The ethics of A.I. are important to consider for humanity. The aims and interests of its owners and developers is important to know. Making money on this with little government oversight is frightening. As you say, just consider the war-making capacity. We won’t have to face each other as humans on the battlefield and our shared humanity would be reduced as a result. Faith and reason are important to consider together. The transcendent aspect (God) exists as is believed in Christianity and in other major religious/faith traditions of our world.

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