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Bishop of Awka’s Thoughts On Artificial Intelligence

Monsignor Ezeokafor: “Artificial intelligence must render service to the community, not replace it”

In preparation for the 58th World Communications Day, the Nigerian Diocese of Awka has organized a week of reflection May 5-12 on the themes addressed by Pope Francis in his message, “Artificial Intelligence and Wisdom of the Heart: for Fully Human Communication.”

Pope Francis’ invitation to address “with the wisdom of the heart” the opportunities and challenges posed by artificial intelligence systems could not go unheeded in Nigeria, one of the countries on the African continent where the evolution of new communication technologies offers great opportunities for social and economic development, yes, but also risks empowering the logic of profit and power as well as providing new and more high-performing tools for organized crime.

It is with this in mind that Monsignor Paulinus Chukwuemeka Ezeokafor, Bishop of Awka, wanted to give impetus to reflection in his diocese: “Artificial intelligence systems are in themselves very valuable. They can help us do a lot, but if we don’t pay due attention they risk overwhelming our humanity.”

The analysis starting with the words of Pope Francis

The reflection promoted by Msgr. Ezeokafor starts from the fundamental question posed by Pope Francis: how can we remain fully human and direct the cultural change taking place towards the good?

“Artificial intelligence,” said Msgr. Ezeokafor, “should render service to humanity and not be used to control or replace humanity or make humans useless and superfluous, because if that were to happen we would be doomed.”

Concretely, the crucial points to be addressed are many because there are many potential drifts of artificial intelligence, first of all disinformation and manipulation of reality, but also the use of technologies for criminal purposes.

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In Nigeria, as in other countries on the African continent, it has been evident for years now how technological communication tools have often become “tools” in the service of crime. The evolution of artificial intelligence could rapidly worsen a scenario that is already very worrisome today.

The bishop of Awka was keen to strongly emphasize these dangers so that humans always remain subjects and not objects of the technologies they create.

Unfortunately, organized crime in Nigeria has increased significantly in recent years

Msgr. Ezeokafor deprecated this negative trend involving especially the younger generation: “It is sad that many of our young people are using technology to perpetrate evil in society by getting involved in ‘Yahoo-Yahoo’ (a name by which computer fraud in Nigeria is popularly called, ed.) or Internet scams.”

This phenomenon, until recently concentrated in the Lagos area, has rapidly spread to all cities in southern Nigeria. Cybercrime is now organized crime, with vast networks and unfortunately very efficient pyramid structures.

Fraud perpetrated on the web has created deteriorating patterns and lifestyles among Nigeria’s youth: it is not uncommon to see young men and women living in luxury and the display of wealth without honest means of livelihood, but solely through scams carried out via the Internet.

The criminal drift stigmatized by the bishop of Awka is not limited to Nigeria, but has unfortunately found fertile ground in other countries on the African continent as well: in Kenya and South Africa, cybercrime has spread like wildfire with increasingly widespread and elaborate digital crime schemes (identity theft, bank fraud, romance scams, extortion, blackmail).

That said, however, it is good not to feed dangerous stereotypes: the growth of cybercrime in Africa does not mean that the majority of digital scams come from the African continent. However, it is most important not to underestimate the speed at which criminal networks can expand in Africa, even from other continents: the useful space to grow and proliferate unchecked is still vast.

In this global/local context, the criminal use of new artificial intelligence systems cannot help but be frightening. Turning his gaze to the future, Bishop Ezeokafor’s appeal becomes heartfelt: “This is why parents must prioritize the education and spiritual development of their children so that they can connect with God and master the more material instincts.”

Restarting from the human heart

The spiritual development advocated by the bishop of Awka is what we find described in the Holy Father’s Message: “Only by equipping ourselves with a spiritual gaze, only by recovering a wisdom of the heart, can we read and interpret the newness of our time and rediscover the way to fully human communication.”

According to Pope Francis, reflection on the new technologies must necessarily start from the human heart: “the heart understood biblically as the seat of freedom and of life’s most important decisions is a symbol of integrity, of unity, but it also evokes the affections, desires, dreams, and is above all the interior place of the encounter with God.

In human hands, every thing, every tool, every technology can become opportunity or danger depending on the orientation of the heart. This is the awareness Pope Francis invites us to cultivate.

A first seed of reflection has been planted in the Diocese of Awka that will surely bear the fruits of action.


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