Emerging technology is important but only humans can retain the morality of good communication

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Bishop John Arnold, Lead Bishop for Communications for the Bishops’ Conference, has spoken ahead of the 57th World Communications Day about Pope Francis’ message as well as the need to embrace emerging technologies with an ethical mind, to ensure human beings don’t suffer on the path to ‘progress’.

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Media bishop on the challenges of modern communications
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The theme for the day takes its inspiration from Ephesians 4:15, “Speaking with the heart. ‘The truth in love’.” Bishop Arnold says the search for truth helps us discover our true purpose: 

“Once we lose the truth in the media, then we can be led in all sorts of different directions. People can be condemned for things they haven’t done or said, and we can be entirely distracted. If we’re searching for the truth, then we’ve got that possibility of real purpose and progress. We’ve got to be able to identify fake news and put it to one side. It’s very important that we are continually on guard to make sure that what we say is substantiated by the facts.” 

But in our always-on digital world there is a certain ‘din’ as the Pope calls it. The challenge is to find those things of meaning and substance rather than doom-scrolling our way through superficial content.

“We’ve got to have those long-term objectives, those signposts that we can constantly use to measure so that we can see clearly… It’s those simple principles like going back to the Gospel and asking, ‘what’s the most important commandment?’ To love your Lord your God, with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. The second resembles it… to love your neighbour as yourself. 

“How important it is that we’ve always got that sense of the good of others. In all our discussions and in our search for the truth, we must be careful not to persecute or damage other people when we’re trying to find the way forward in our fast-developing world.” 

Emerging technology 

Talking about a fast-developing world, the ethical dimension to the speed of technological advance – especially in relation to the tools of information gathering and sharing – is a topic very much in the public gaze. The so-called ‘godfather’ of Artificial Intelligence, Geoffrey Hinton, quit his job at Google warning that AI chatbots are close to being “more intelligent than human beings”. But machines are not humans. Other tech bosses in the US have admitted that regulation is essential to protect the public as AI develops. 

Almost 60 years ago, the Vatican II document on Social Communications Inter Mirifica was published. It encouraged the use of the emerging technologies of the time at the service of the Church’s Gospel message. But there was a caveat: 

“The Church recognises that these media, if properly utilised, can be of great service to mankind, since they greatly contribute to entertainment and instruction as well as to the spread and support of the Kingdom of God. The Church recognises, too, that men can employ these media contrary to the plan of the Creator and to their own loss.” 

The tension between the positives and negatives is not lost on Bishop John Arnold: 

“Modern means of technology are very important and how fortunate we are to have the science that allows us to communicate in that way. But there are certain boundaries… We’ve got to be sure that we retain the ethics and the morality of good communication within our own thinking minds and not just leave it to a machine to tell us what things are and how truth is to be communicated. We must hold on to the limits of truth for ourselves.” 

Prayer 

So what should we pray for on World Communications Day?  

“We should pray for the ability to be sensitive in communicating truth to people with that sense of love for their wellbeing, which can often include criticism, ” says Bishop Arnold. “But criticism can be constructive and done with a sense of charity, and we can always speak the truth with purpose.” 

World Communications Day is celebrated in the parishes of England and Wales on Sunday, 21 May 2023.