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The Morality of Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Young Asian girl holds a robot's hand

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has become a cultural hot topic this year, especially around the ethical and moral issues involving its use in anything from writing student essays to determining bail amounts.

In the world of science-fiction, author Isaac Asimov crafted the Three Laws of Robotics, which would ensure that no android imbued with AI could harm a human being and would obey every command given to it by any human, as long as those commands didn’t harm other humans.

However, with AI systems — such as ChatGPI and Bard — developing so quickly in a consumerist and capitalist society there’s hardly been any time to create consensus around their ethical development.

Discussions on this popular subject have even reached the world of the Catholic press with several publications diving headfirst into the fray. One of the go-to experts in this field appears to be Joseph Vukov, a philosophy professor at Loyola University.

In the world of science fact, Vukov brings up the Turing Test — devised by Alan Turing in 1950 — in an interview with Elise Ureneck in Angelus Magazine. This test is used to determine if an AI system is sentient or not through asking a series of questions that provokes human-like responses.

However, Vukov notes that the test is only successful if we reduce the concept of being “human” as only being a complex computational system. In the Catholic faith, though, we understand that a human being is a physical body joined with a metaphysical soul.

In a roundtable discussion excerpted in America Magazine, Vukov acknowledges that the human soul can be studied scientifically, but only up to a certain point. While an AI can certainly understand and mimic the words of human emotions back to us, can it really “feel” the same emotions that humans do? Further, Vukov says in Angelus:

AI is not particularly good at evaluating meaning or ethics or religious frameworks for viewing the world or bringing personal experiences to bear on big ideas.

AI is already used on a small scale to help humans communicate with each other in simple ways like auto-suggesting email responses, so it seems reasonable to want to contemplate if more complicated AI systems with complex language are independently sentient or not. Maybe they are in their own way, but they are far from having a soul bestowed upon them from God.

(Top photo by Andy Kelly on Unsplash)

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