October 23, 2006

Pope warns about "artificial intelligence"

The Vatican recently backed down from its rabid anti-evolution stance in favour of an opinion more in line with intelligent design, but one thing the Catholic Church will never concede is the existence of the human soul. Vitalism and the ascendancy of the soul remain indelible concepts in the Christian canon.

Along these lines, Pope Benedict spoke out this past weekend against the increasingly prevalent view among scientists that the brain is largely a material and malleable construct, namely the idea of cognitive functionalism or computationalism. Of course, the Pope didn't use this exact terminology, instead opting to use the term "artificial intelligence."

Benedict warned that such a view will lead humanity to an Icarus-like fate – Icarus being the mythic figure who burned his wings by venturing too close to the sun. "Contemporary life gives pride of place to an artificial intelligence ever more enslaved to experimental techniques, thereby forgetting that all science should safeguard mankind and promote his tendency to authentic goodness," he said. The Pope went on to say, "Letting yourself be seduced by discovery without paying attention to the criteria of a deeper vision could lead to the drama the myth speaks of."

Clearly, the pope is concerned about the growing sophistication of medical interventions in the brain. The ability to modify moods and proclivities through the application of such things as neuropharma and cybertechnologies has the Pope worried.

At least, this is my interpretation of the Pope’s injunction; his words were typically vague and cryptic. It also occurred to me that he could be warning about the development of true AI, but I’m not entirely positive. I wouldn’t mind hearing some other opinions or interpretations.


Well, it looks like the Reuters report that I pulled the quote from got it all wrong. It wasn't artificial intelligence that the Pope was talking about, but rather 'artificial' intelligence in the context of education and learning. You can read more from his speech here. Thank you to Steve for pointing this out.


  1. Anonymous6:27 PM

    Actually, I think you might be on the wrong track. I found this blog post which gives a long version of his speech, and compares it to the news reports.

    It seems that a) the news report is somewhat selectively edited, and b) the pope doesn't seem to be talking about the brain at all, but, I dunno, "technocracy" maybe.

  2. Anonymous11:47 PM

    Daedalus and Icarus sound like the first "MythBusters." Maybe we should risk the triumph of Daedalus instead. J.B.S. Haldane points out that the gods didn't punish Daedalus, and he doesn't show up in the underworld after his death, because Daedalus "was the first to demonstrate that the scientific worker is not concerned with gods."


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