Episode 40

E40 - Bridging Spirituality and Ethics in the Age of Artificial Intelligence: A Conversation with Fr Joe Evans

Fr Joe Evans, a Catholic priest, discusses the intersection of AI and ethics. He emphasises the importance of ethical formation and the need to understand the wisdom of the past.

Father Joe highlights the positive potential of AI while recognising the risks and limitations. He encourages collaboration between AI practitioners and religious communities to ensure responsible and ethical use of technology.

The conversation also touches on the decline of religion and the need for ethical discussions in a technology-driven world. The conversation explores the limitations of AI and the value of human life, the differences between human intelligence and machine intelligence, the emergence of AI religion, the need for clear regulations and international cooperation in AI development, and the purpose of Adama Magazine and Ten Minutes with Jesus.

Takeaways

  • Ethical formation is crucial in the development and use of AI.
  • Religious wisdom and teachings can provide valuable insights into ethical considerations.
  • Collaboration between AI practitioners and religious communities is essential for responsible and ethical use of technology.
  • Recognizing the value of face-to-face relations and the dignity of the human person is important in the age of AI. AI lacks the ability to appreciate its own dignity and the value of human life.
  • Intelligence is more than technical know-how; it includes understanding the value of human life and the importance of emotions like fear.
  • Clear regulations and international cooperation are necessary to ensure the responsible development and use of AI.
  • Adama Magazine aims to create a space where the human person can flourish, and Ten Minutes with Jesus offers a daily meditation to help people connect with God.

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Thanks for listening, and stay curious!

//david

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Transcript

00:00 - David Brown (Host)

Hello everybody, welcome to the Creatives with AI Podcast. I'm your host, David, and on today's show, we have Father Joe Evans. Father Joe is a Catholic priest and a member of the Catholic organisation Opus Dei. Father Joe was born in London, studied French and Portuguese at King's College and later did a doctorate in biblical theology at the University of Navarre in Spain. He's also a writer, journalist, and communicator in various forms of media. He is co-founder and editorial director of the online magazine Adamah Media and lead coordinator of the Catholic podcast series Ten Minutes with Jesus. I've been really excited to have someone, a priest on, and someone from the spiritual community, to come and talk about AI and how I think AI and morals and everything fits into that. So I'm really excited to talk to Father Joe. So, Father Joe, welcome to the show.

00:54 - Fr Joe Evans (Guest)

Thank you, it's great to be here.

00:57 - David Brown (Host)

I thought maybe, I guess, just start off a little bit and just give a little bit more of your background because I assume there's probably a bit more of it than that and just let everybody kind of know, to give us a little bit of context about what your background is and where you're coming from.

01:11 - Fr Joe Evans (Guest)

Okay, well, I'm a very proud Londoner. I love London. I was born, as you said. I was born and brought up in London, but I've also been very happy and blessed to live outside of London in various places, Spain, Rome, Portugal for my studies, and a bit of time in France too. I'm a great Francophile and Luciphile. I love Portugal. I love, I've been. I've. The Lord has taken me about 10 years to Manchester. I've had very blessed years in Manchester. I've just come from Manchester. I'm now based here in Oxford at a place called Grantpont House, which is a centre of Opus Dei here in Manchester. I, yeah, I have worked as a journalist. I now run this online magazine called Adamah Media, which tries to bring people together in a sort of deformed bonds, to overcome ghettos, to help people overcome beyond, go beyond tribalism. It's something that's very dear to me, and I work a lot with young people, which I love.

02:10 - David Brown (Host)

Brilliant, and can you explain for people listening, because I assume most people listening probably aren't going to know what Opus Dei is, and probably their only experience is going to has been through a Dan Brown film or a book or something like that. And I'm sure you come across this all the time, but it's, it's a, it's a good place to start, I think, just so everybody again, can have a little bit of context.

02:33 - Fr Joe Evans (Guest)

priest, Saint Jose Maria, in:

02:58

And his big idea - what God made him see - was that all people are called to holiness and that you don't have to be a priest, you don't have to be a monk or a nun. Everybody's called to holiness through their ordinary, everyday life. So it's very much making holy the ordinary. So most of our although you've got to hear a priest talking, I myself, before being a priest, was a journalist and a youth worker, and most of our members, at least or at least about over 90%, are ordinary lay folk, ordinary people. A number of them embrace celibacy, choose not to get married for the glory of God, and more dead, more explicit dedication and the service of the other members. But most of our members are married or could be married, men and women who find God through their family life. But a big thing for us is making holy word the very word or the very two words.

03:49

Opus Dei means work of God, and it's all about our spirits, all about finding God through everyday life, through work, a lot of it. Everyday life involves a lot of work. It also involves the life of the home and the chores, but the duties of the home, but also the joys of the home, but very much work. And so an Opus Dei member should, if he or she lives his spirit well, should be an exemplary colleague at work, should work very well with a positive spirit, should be very much a plus sign, a force of union with a stress on quality work done for the glory of God and for the service of others. And we'll have members in everything from a street cleaner to a government minister, all sorts of possibilities.

04:35 - David Brown (Host)

Yeah, it's really interesting, and just several of my family members are in the work, and it's always been quite interesting, so I know a bit about it. The way I explain it to people, and you will probably kill me for this later, is for people, though, who aren’t Catholic, or maybe you aren’t even Christian; the way I like to explain it is it's almost like mindfulness. It's almost the same concept that you're mindful in your work, so you're mindful of your spirituality and doing the right thing and treating people well and being a good example and sanctifying the work that you do. I know you probably on all sorts of levels. That's totally wrong, but to try and make people who don't have the Catholic context to kind of understand it, I always think that's the easiest way to maybe help people understand.

05:24 - Fr Joe Evans (Guest)

I think it's not a bad start, I would say, with mindfulness with God and for God. It's not just thinking about yourself or gazing at your own belly button. So we're Catholics, we're Christians, we firmly believe in God, and we have to live for God. So it's. But I think it's not a bad way to start Mindfulness for and with God.

05:45 - David Brown (Host)

I like it. Good, okay, excellent. So one of the things to big topics that keeps coming up all the time in almost every conversation, and I’ve been talking about this for nine months on, it comes up in every conversation that I have is always ethics, and we talk a lot, and you know you mentioned naval gazing. There's a lot of navel-gazing in the AI community. I think about ethics and what that means, but I've always wondered what’s the moral aspect of it. And I know that today they're almost synonymous, but I always when I was taught when I was, and I'm in my mid-50s now, so you know, when I was being taught back in the 70s it was, they were taught as kind of your morals or your internal compass, whereas ethics are kind of an external thing that business have. And I was wondering: A) Is that even correct? I mean, I assume that maybe the thoughts moved on since then. B) Can you sort of explain the difference between the two? So again, we have some context around this conversation and what we're thinking about.

06:50 - Fr Joe Evans (Guest)

Good. Yes, I think in practice today, they are seen as the same as different. So, as you've put it, they are seen as— as you put it very nicely the moles, your internal compass, ethics, what you expected from society, the right thing to do. That wasn't always the way it's been seen. A very famous work on morality, one of the great classics, long before Christianity; by the way, one of the great classics of thought is Aristotle’s Nick and McCarran Ethics, and it's all about the internal compass. It's how you can be a good person, a good man or a good woman. So in recent decades they've tended to make this distinction has grown up and it's not. You know, language evolves, and sometimes it's not necessarily a bad thing. The only problem there, however, is ethics can easily get reduced to legality and what you can get away with, what you have to do, business guidelines.

07:46

That, for example, typically happens in medicine; medical ethics is being taught more and more as to what is legal and what's not legal. But of course, you can't load together legality and morality. Something potentially could be legal and immoral, or something could be, I mean, the Nazis making laws against the Jews which are all immoral, totally immoral. So you know, morality is profoundly internal. Ethics should be profoundly internal. So I don't mind the distinction, as long as it's really understood that ethics can't be reduced to just legality or what you can get away with or what you can't get away with. There's business guidelines. It's got to be more; it's got to come from the inside.

08:32 - David Brown (Host)

Interesting. Ok, so I had it backwards, so that's a good learning point already. And so the other. I think the wrinkle that we talk about a lot is. Or my question that I always have is, and maybe we'll, the term natural law is going to come out here, but I think there is a concept that there's, like this natural law, which I think almost every religion in the world agrees on a few core principles. You know, you don't kill people. Treat people like you want to be treated. I think there are some very core tenets that everybody agrees on. And then what happens is is you get all the details around the edges, and it's all the what you can eat and what you can say and who you can talk to and when you need to do this and when you need to do that, that have divided everybody.

09:22

But I guess what I'm getting at is that when you get into the ethics discussion, particularly around technology and in the workplace, you start getting people who have different views about how what should be done here or who should be done. You know how something should be done, and I'm curious to know what you think about how, how you start to bring all that together, because what we can end up in a situation where we've got some AI that's built in the Far East, where they may have a very different set of ethics that they live by, or societal ethics maybe and then we've got the West and we've got Silicon Valley, which has a whole nother set of its own ethics that lives just in California, and I'm wondering do you have any thoughts on how you think we might be able to pull all that together?

10:17 - Fr Joe Evans (Guest)

Yes, natural law. I recommend CS Lewis's The Abolition of Man, who talks about this quite interesting, and he makes the point that you get in different forms of culture, there's always been some sort of sense of fundamental moral and ethical values. In Judaism, it's expressed mainly in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, according to the Christian view. In the Chinese culture, it's the Tao. There are basic rights and wrongs that either have to be done or avoided. And it's true you want to get into I remember, as a university student, you get into heated arguments. There isn't a moral law, there isn't a moral law, there isn't a law.

10:56

But I think fundamentally, people eventually agree on something that it's wrong to take innocent life. Because what is innocent life, what's not innocent life? But still, it's wrong to take innocent life. You shouldn't steal other people's property, it's unfair to commit adultery, there's all sorts of. Eventually, somewhere, you can agree on some basic moral principles. Likewise, I think we can agree on some basic moral principles for the regulation of AI. The devil's in the detail. But we and we do all the time agree on principles. I mean, a child could say ah, it's not fair.

11:36

You know a child without realising it is in our guts, in our instinct. The child is according to some basic principle of justice and at least I think we could sort of pinpoint some basic principles of justice treating people properly. I think we can do that much and I think we need to do that much, otherwise we're going to have big problems.

11:56 - David Brown (Host)

And you're right. I mean, we do have an international human rights agreement that Exactly, I think, every country in the world has signed up to.

12:04 - Fr Joe Evans (Guest)

Exactly. Society functions on the basis of some accepted ethical and moral principles.

12:12 - David Brown (Host)

So, how do we build on that?

12:14 - Fr Joe Evans (Guest)

How do we build on that? In what sense? For AI or in general?

12:18 - David Brown (Host)

Yeah, for AI, I mean in a world where we're getting in a situation where I mean. Where the technology is heading now is that anybody can create their own small AI tool to do whatever they want it to do. And this is, I guess, where my sort of concept of morality comes in because we have to have, I think, we have to rely on people having that internal compass, and some people don't, or some people have a different one than we have. Like, your moral compass is probably different than mine versus my wife, versus someone I meet on the street. It may not be wildly different, but it's going to be slightly different. But some people are wildly different. And this is the worry that I have is, Does having that technology introduce another risk, like a moral risk or some sort of an ethical risk to us as people that maybe we haven't even considered yet?

13:21 - Fr Joe Evans (Guest)

Yes, but only because of the power of the technology. I mean, I think we have to begin with the principle that AI is good AI. As a Catholic, a priest would see AI as a great gift from God, a great expression of human creativity and intelligence. So I think we let's not start with sort of apocalyptic, negative vision. I think it'd be wrong, and I would say, although we perhaps slipped up slightly with Galileo, the church, I think, has quite a good record in promoting science, and precisely science developed within the Western world. Really, I think that's the basis Interesting because there is a sense that God is intelligent, god is logical, and there's a logic that can be discovered. So I think we need to have a positive vision towards science, towards technology.

14:10

However, the particular difficulty here, the danger, is, of course, this new technology is especially powerful. That's the problem. There have been technologies in the past which have been less powerful, therefore less worrying, particularly powerful, and anybody who has a bit of knowledge can do a lot of harm, and that's why I think what we need to do is invest ever more in ethical formation. That's what we've got to do. I think governments, the industry has to work together. I think here, sometimes people see the AI industry as the baddies. You know, we've got to keep them under control. These are the danger.

14:52

No, it's very interesting. There was a recent meeting. Well, of course, I'm thinking about the COP meeting in early December or end of November, December and it was interesting that it was quite controversial in the sense that some of the fossil fuel people were involved, and this caused a lot of stir. But I think it was a good idea because you've got to work together with everybody, and likewise, I think if we're going to follow form ethical principles and guidelines, I think those outside the AI world mustn't see the AI world as enemies. The AI world mustn't see themselves as sort of, you know, we're not understood.

15:37 - David Brown (Host)

Or saviours.

15:38 - Fr Joe Evans (Guest)

Nobody likes us.

15:40 - David Brown (Host)

Or saviours.

15:41 - Fr Joe Evans (Guest)

Or saviours, exactly, and I think let's work together. I think, then, there needs to be also, I think it's important to bring into play here the wisdom of religion. Sometimes it can be a bit of. You know, what's religion in this modern world? In this technological world, what's religion got to say? Well, at least religion expresses the wisdom of the ages and the very fact that religion refuses to die. You know, it's got a lot of demand, and sometimes, of course, just as sometimes people are afraid of AI, people are afraid of religions. So I think you know there's a lot of wisdom in religion. I think I would say particularly obviously I'm biased, but the Catholic Church has a tremendous tradition of ethical thought, moral study. There's a lot to offer there. So let's get round the table, let's work together and let's see how we can form people ever more in a proper, responsible use of AI, aiming for the, not just for our own personal, selfish ends, but for the good of all, the common good, that notion of common good and what is truly good for all.

16:45 - David Brown (Host)

No, I like that what's? I just want to go back to something you mentioned earlier. You mentioned, I think you said, ethical formation. What does that mean?

16:54 - Fr Joe Evans (Guest)

Good. Thank you, yes, I can. Basically, we're in a situation where it's a curious age, it's a great age, but it's an age where we have ever more technological power and technical ability, but somehow we seem ever more confused about ethics as a society. I don't want to get into too many details, but you know, because these will get controversial. But you know the that's perfect go for it.

17:22

I call it gender ideology is a classic example of confusion. People are now even confused about what it means to be a person. Tremendous confusion, tremendous moral confusion and also a surprising. This is one of the surprising things: a surprising self-hatred that, more and more, you get an idea coming across. Where the human person is bad. The human person is, you know, the danger, the threat that comes across in forms of cinema. Avatar is a good example. You know where it comes in in popular culture, where more and more humans are bad. Sometimes nature's good, or what we've got to do is, if we can get beyond the humans and invent, you know, robots that sort of do without humans, then everything will be better. So I think no, we need to see humans as good. We are part of the solution, not part of the problem. We can be part of the problem, but we're also part of the solution and work together to understand ever more better clearly the ideas of the human person. That's what I mean by ethical formation. We don't understand ourselves. We seem to hate ourselves. We seem to be seeking our own extinction. There's a profound pessimism about the human person. We need to value ever more what it means to be human. Also, going back to the classics like Aristotle's, Nick and McKen Ethics, the medieval thinkers, there's tremendous wisdom there about the human person and we need to look at that again and understand it. I often, you know, say, for example, people don't even know the vocabulary of goodness now. So you are someone to explain what a virtue is. They might not be able to do it. Many people wouldn't even know what a virtue is; they'd only live it At least. You go back to the Victorians. I'm not saying the Victorians were perfect. I'm the last person to think we need to go back to some sort of golden age. I'm very happy to be living where I am now. I'm very comfortable in it. But you know, some ages have better things, some ages have worse things. There's lots of advances too, but you know, the Victorians were very clear about what virtues were and they would talk about virtues and they would distinguish virtues.

19:27

You go to the Bible and the Old Testament, the ancient world. There's a tremendous tradition of wisdom. There's various books all about wisdom. In the Bible, nobody cares about wisdom anymore. Or you wanna look good, it'll be sexy or healthy. You know, look young and healthy. Who cares about wisdom? Well, it's a shame that we've lost that. What does it mean to be wise? What is wisdom? What is virtue? What is the good life? That's what I mean, that's ethical formation, that we're really properly looking at these questions Again, bringing on board the wisdom of the ages, the wisdom of the great Greek philosophers, the wisdom of religion, the wisdom of the church, the wisdom of the medieval doctors. That's ethical. Looking at all that.

20:03

Again, it was great to death and not thinking that somehow and this is a typical problem that somehow everything began in the 19th century or even now some of the 20th century. Of course, another big, big problem I'm talking about problems. There's also lots of tremendous opportunities in good. But another big problem is that confusion, that the thought that because we can do something means we should do it, and there's a loss of self-control, there's a loss of recognising our limits. We need to control ourselves. That's part of ethical responsibility. Again, that's the danger. We have ever more technical ability but nevertheless ethical knowledge. So, learning what does it mean? Learning to control ourselves? That's a big problem of our age.

20:54

Pope Francis talks about that, particularly in the aspect of consumerism. He talks of feverish consumerism, which is harming the planet. So it's interesting how Pope Francis brings into play or brings together two very interesting aspects. One is concerned for the environment, and another thing he calls, what he calls it's a bit of a technical term, but once you explain it, it makes a lot of sense what he calls a technocratic paradigm. Now, the technocratic paradigm.

21:20

It goes the idea that if you can do it, it's right to do it. Whatever you can get away with, whatever you can technically do, you can do it, or technology will solve all our problems. All we need is a technical solution. So we can pollute as much as we like, but as long as we can deal with it, we can deal with the fallout technologically. We can damage our bodies as much as we like, as long as we've got statins or whatever it is to limit the damage. And technology can come into this. Now, technology can do a tremendous amount of good to enormous. We're having this conversation, this wonderful communication through technology. So again, we have to be open to the many possibilities.

22:05

But be careful with that idea that somehow there's a technological solution to everything, that just because we have the technological ability, it's right to do it. It might not be. We can blow up nuclear power we can blow ourselves up. Sometimes, we have to say no to ourselves and realise the solution is more than technology, and we might have to go slower and say that don't go down there; that will harm us. Things like, again, speaking as a Catholic priest, but experimentation and embryos, and is it right? Is it the right way to go? Do we know what we're doing? So much of our research, we don't even know what we're doing. We don't quite know the harm it could have. Genetic manipulation Maybe we need to go slower and say is this right before we start doing it? Sometimes, too often, we start doing it and ask moral questions later 100%.

22:57 - David Brown (Host)

You're absolutely right, and I think the perfect example is, I mean, we could sit and talk through so many examples where there've been massive unintended consequences that have come after a new technology like social media, for example. It was all well and good, and it was great fun in the beginning, and people were talking to each other, and we had this wonderful, amazing ability to communicate, and we were talking to people across the world, and it was all really good until it wasn't and then the bad actors started getting involved, and then people who wanted to just cause trouble, and then the bad bits started coming in.

23:36

have guessed, but hindsight's:

24:51

And you mentioned medicine, and I generally don't talk about personal life, but I've had some experiences, particularly with stem cells and some of the stem cell research in the past, and I know, for example, at the University of Tennessee, they got in massive legal trouble in the US because they were aborting healthy babies so that they could sell the stem cells for researchers and to do research with, and people can look it up. It was a case in the US, and I mean, it's horrible. So, you know, stuff like that does happen. It definitely happens. Since I'm trying to think of how I wanna ask what I wanna ask, I just spit it out, I think, what we're seeing, and correct me if I'm wrong and I totally may be wrong. This is just my anecdotal feeling, but it feels like we're in a situation where certainly in the West, I'll keep it kind of to the West, which is sort of Europe and the US and that sort of thing it feels like for the last few decades that religion has been decreasing, or certainly, involvement in religion has been decreasing.

26:07 - Fr Joe Evans (Guest)

Yes, in the West and in other places growing in Africa and Asia, but yes, in the West, without a doubt.

26:13 - David Brown (Host)

Exactly. That's why I sort of corrected myself because I was thinking about that. Where, with that going on and people not paying so much attention to religion, whether it's Catholic or else how do we start to then have those ethical discussions and how do we try and get people back to some level of thinking about their ethical formation?

26:42 - Fr Joe Evans (Guest)

Food. Discussions like this is one way. I think we I think Christians also have to get out there, and people of religion have to get out there and get across these. Sometimes we only got ourselves to blame. That we also need, and that means professional competence. You need to know what you're talking about. So I think part of it is us getting out there, getting across these good ideas because we've got these amazing ideas, one of them all, this tremendous tradition, but nobody knows it. So I think education are part, but I think also people have to start asking themselves questions that really, where have we taken ourselves? Are we any better for having ignored religion? Are we?

27:26

The divorce rates go up. Mental health problems go up, you know wealth goes up, although even now, you know it's still. It went up for a while. But this now you know it's not necessarily going up everywhere and certainly not in Europe. You know there's serious economic questions that being asked. You know the demographic problem. You know, the question of the birth rates to decline in, you know, are we any? I think people have to ask themselves, are we any better off really for having rejected religion? Maybe it's time to go back and listen to what religion had to say, and some, you know, we. You know, in some of these areas, we've been warning people. You know, for example, the Catholic Church. It's good to have children be open to life. Money isn't everything. You know, things like that. Judge first be more concerned about the ethical consequences than the financial profit. You know the it's.

28:16

I think people need to realise. Yeah, maybe all that we've done and we got a bit dazzled by it, as can happen, and a bit like what you're talking about. You know, for example, social media, and we've, I think, that wonderful story. I don't know who it comes from, but I'm sure you've heard it: the children who had the, who had these powers to get a room. They could go into a room and make anything they liked. They could that room, they could turn that room into anything they wanted, and they're having tremendous fun, all sorts of wonderful games in that room, until one day they decided to turn the room into a jungle and they went in and were eaten by wild beasts. Right, you know, and maybe we've got ourselves a bit into that situation in the Western world. Some of the wonderful world things that we've created are in danger of eating us up, and before it's too late, let's start listening to some of the wisdom of the past.

29:09 - David Brown (Host)

That's really interesting, and I've never I haven't actually heard that before. So that's interesting to think about, and I think you're right. But I think in a weirdly ironic way, the drive of technology, I think, is actually forcing people, forcing but causing people to have these discussions because ethics now has become such a hot topic. You know, even though it's, it's maybe the understanding of it is a little different than it has been traditionally and that sort of thing, but at least it's like a starting point, and people are starting to. You know, there's a lot of talk about, but there's a lot of bias in the data as well.

29:51

And what's interesting is, bias is different than ethics, but then there's an ethical element to deciding what you do about the bias, and it's, you know, do you fix it or do you leave it? And you know, I've talked about this several times, and I'm undecided because I'm nervous that if you start pushing a narrative of some fiction that doesn't exist, what are the consequences of that? And are there some unintended consequences that we'll run into, as opposed to using the data as a mirror to say, wow, there's a lot of bias out there, there's a lot of prejudice out there and for us to then be able to work on that because we can see what's happening? I'm not really sure where that is, but again, there's that ethical, I think, an ethical and moral aspect that that comes into the, you know, to the base of making those decisions. Definitely.

30:45 - Fr Joe Evans (Guest)

I will think you made me think of that well-known statement, applied usually applied to politics with great power comes great responsibility. But I think we're seeing with, with the, with the AI, with AI, with great power comes great responsibility, and I think AI practitioners are probably seeing that too. Also, sometimes, because we're finding ourselves all of us, both, anybody using AI at whatever level, both the experts and the amateurs, we're all finding ourselves somehow affected by it, sometimes the victims, they. You know that suddenly you're getting. You're getting also you talk about bias as an example manipulation, political manipulation. You know all the, the whole question about Cambridge analytics and the elections and all these sorts of things. You know, suddenly we're finding out this.

31:32

This affects me. So you know, then, the real threats in the world. So vigilance, for example, in China, is the whole thing of social credit. You know, there's a system in China where you know you, they got you completely monitored, and anything you do wrong, you lose a bit of credit, and that can affect your life, it can affect your ability to travel. You can really become a form of prison, really Monitoring. You know, wherever we go, there are cameras, the, where in danger of living in ever smaller worlds because of echo chambers, that the, the algorithms work out what we're interested in, and that's that comes up on our feed.

32:09

So I think we're finding, all of us are finding again, again. This affects me and I think possibly this could be a way cap Also recognising. You know, speaking on the internet and social media, there's a lot of good out there. There was also a lot of rubbish, a lot of crazy things out there, and we're seeing that, and hopefully, this will lead people to ask, as you say, ethical questions. You know this, this, this. There are dangers here. There's a lot of good opportunities, but there are dangers. I do need to think more ethically.

32:34 - David Brown (Host)

Yeah, no, and I hope, fingers crossed, that it ultimately pushes people that way and that, you know, it does become a little bit more of an open discussion than it has been in the past. Right, that's been quite a heavy conversation so far and we've we've dug into to a lot of stuff there. I want to slightly change a little bit and ask have you ever used AI, or do you use AI yourself?

33:00 - Fr Joe Evans (Guest)

Well, depends what you mean by that. I haven't yet got to Chat-GPT. I like to develop my own material. I mean, I suppose obviously depends. Depends what you mean by AI. I mean everything. Anything computerised is AI in a sense, but no in the sense of somehow the you know, computers sort of generating their own intelligence. Of course, this does lead to the question of to what extent can computers be intelligent. But perhaps we can come to that one afterwards. So I think no. I have to confess I'm not a very technical person.

33:32 - David Brown (Host)

That's okay, it's. I'm always curious because some people I talk to do and some people don't, and some people have dabbled with. You know, and I appreciate the nuance. You know, when I say AI, AI I usually mean the more generative, the newer tools that have kind of been around in the last, the more generative type.

33:50 - Fr Joe Evans (Guest)

No, I do know priests who do use it, who are very into it, certainly a lot of Christian and Catholic lay people that use it a lot. So there's no in that sense. I think we're all very familiar with it and very happy with it. There's no fear of it. There's we mustn't be Luddite, sort of destroying. You know, seeing technology is bad and trying to destroy it. But no, I confess I myself am a rather un-technological person.

34:12 - David Brown (Host)

The Pope even has a head of AI.

34:14 - Fr Joe Evans (Guest)

st of January:

35:10 - David Brown (Host)

Yeah, and I'll actually put a link to it in the show now. So if anybody's, it's fascinating.

35:13 - Fr Joe Evans (Guest)

It's a very complete and fascinating and very positive and very open to the good in AI.

35:19 - David Brown (Host)

Is that so from your understanding, what's the church's? I mean, I know you're not an official spokesman for the church, so I'll put that out there. So this is your own opinion. But what's kind of your, what's your feeling Like how the church thinks about it in general? Does it ever come up in conversations when you're with other priests, you're with other clergy or anybody sort of away from the public? Does it ever come up as a topic of conversation?

35:43 - Fr Joe Evans (Guest)

Not desperately, I think mainly also, probably because, at least in the West, quite a lot of the priests are older, and I think they're not really they're not into it, although I also quite a lot of young priests. I can think I know a few priests who are techies and who do know all about it. It doesn't so I wouldn't say it comes up in priest conversation, but it is coming up more and more in church documents and church teaching. So you mentioned I mentioned the one of the World Day of Peace. You mentioned this guy who's just been appointed as the sort of the church's principal representative spokesman on AI. I haven't had time to look at it yet, but a leading figure from the Vatican was in some place. I remember where he was, in some place and gave an important speech in Africa somewhere and gave a speech about AI. You're seeing it coming up more and more.

36:37

What's the church's vision? I think, again, fundamentally positive. Fundamentally positive. This is a gift from God and an expression of human creativity, but with risks, and we're not gods. I think that's the message. We're not gods; we can't see ourselves as gods. Only God is God, and we have to recognise our limits. I'm not going back to virtues, that important virtue of prudence. Be careful. Prudence is all about knowing how to do things, what's what's what, having a sense of what's the right thing to do, not going beyond ourselves and the right way to go about it. So I think that would be the position I, you know. You're absolutely right. I'm very far from being a spokesman here, just in my little outpost in Oxford, but from what I'm seeing, I am definitely seeing more and more teaching by the church on the question and pointing to its positive but recognising the dangers.

37:42 - David Brown (Host)

Do you think we should be nice to it?

37:44 - Fr Joe Evans (Guest)

To AI. Yes, we should be nice to everybody, but also, I think again, what I said earlier, you know, bringing AI people into the discussion. They're not the devil incarnate, you know. They're not. It's a great thing, you know, and I, if to all the AI people listening to me now I'd say God bless you. Keep, you know, thank you for all you're doing. May God bless you for all you're doing. But, you know, keep your ethical sense alive, and see what you can do to study a bit more good ethics. But no, definitely not. You know, we should work together, and this is a great gift and a great opportunity if we use it properly, and it can do all sorts of wonderful things for human flourishing, medical advancement, the development of culture, making our lives better, and Pope Francis again talks a bit about that.

38:30 - David Brown (Host)

Yeah, there's some of the medical stuff I've talked about quite a lot in the past around the breast cancer research and all that came out of Oxford as well, and that's where I went to an event a year ago now; I guess, where they were talking about that and some of that stuff is really interesting. So you're absolutely right; there's tons of potential upside to it as well, and we need to be mindful of that. I'm glass half full kind of guy most of the time, anyway.

38:57

Yeah, me too, me too, me too, you know, and I think I tend to want to think the best of people, but then I see what people do, and I wonder sometimes.

39:09 - Fr Joe Evans (Guest)

AI is only as good as the ethical attitude of the person coding it.

39:12 - David Brown (Host)

Or using it.

39:13 - Fr Joe Evans (Guest)

Or using it exactly using your coding. You're absolutely right. So again, it comes back to ethical formation, helping people have a better sense of ethics discussions. We've got to get back to a deeper understanding, a deeper study of the human person. And again, computer. And then I think perhaps we're a little bit fast, we're a bit dazzled by our technology. We're in that stage where we're still dazzled by what we can do and we need to, I think, a little bit, a little bit of calming down needed here. Just, you know, keep calm, don't panic, but don't get intoxicated either, and realise the limitations of computers. People think, oh well, one day, you know they will be able to. Well, hmm, you know, computers can't suffer. You can't punish a computer for wrongdoing, I mean you. Often, you can turn it off and throw it away.

40:04 - David Brown (Host)

But it doesn't care.

40:06 - Fr Joe Evans (Guest)

But it's not. You know, the computer doesn't know, the computer doesn't care, but we do. I think again, let's fall more and more in love with the human person. You know, I think sometimes, you know, we men complain about women being whimsical and changing their minds, but actually, that's a marvellous expression of humanity. You know, to be whimsical is a great, I mean. You know it has its faults and all that, but it shows tremendous subtlety, it shows tremendous. Computers can't really be whimsical. You know, we need to understand more and more. You know our ability for love, for concern, for empathy, and vulnerability. It's good that we're vulnerable, weak, and need each other.

40:48

Also, perhaps, the importance of face-to-face relations. That could be, I think, something that we could all sort of work on more. How can we develop face-to-face relations? Pope Francis again says something very interesting. He says that the danger of relationships is that you can turn it off with the click of a button yeah, and you know you can get bored of something; you turn it off, but you can't necessarily turn off your elderly granny. You know who's actually a wonderful person. Yeah, because she's deaf and not very well, it can be a bit tiresome. Of course, some people would like to do that for euthanasia yeah, but that, again, is a failure to engage with the real person in their dignity. So, again, it's more and more appreciating the dignity of the human person and the value of interpersonal relations.

41:31 - David Brown (Host)

Yeah, that's a whole different topic. Yeah, Euthanasia.

41:35 - Fr Joe Evans (Guest)

That's an important topic. It's linked to AI.

41:38 - David Brown (Host)

But something interesting that you there were a couple of things in there, but one of them in particular you talked about. You know you can just turn it off, and it doesn't have that kind of fear. And what's really interesting is that there's a show on Netflix that I've talked about a couple of times, and it talks about AI, and it gives an example of AI in combat, and they basically taught AI to fly a fighter jet, and then they put it in competition with a real human pilot, and I won't go through all the detail, but what's relevant to what you were saying and reinforces your point is that I mean it took out the human pilot. The spoiler alert. It took out the human pilot in like two minutes every time and it will always win.

42:26 - Fr Joe Evans (Guest)

Yeah, AI will always win.

42:27 - David Brown (Host)

And? But the reason the pilot thought it was really interesting because he said what it does is it does a move that a human would never do, which is fly directly at the other plane. So they never. If there's a dogfight, which is, I mean, I never really thought about it, but if they're in a dogfight, they never fly straight at each other Because you can both shoot each other immediately. So they always attack from the side or from the back, and the AI worked out very quickly that the human pilots didn't like to do that and that that was a winning strategy, so it literally just went straight for them every time.

43:05

And there is something to that self-preservation gene that even in a combat situation, where it's life or death, there's still something you won't do because it's too risky and AI doesn't have that, and that's what's gonna be really. I think potentially, you know, it's gonna be really. I don't wanna say interesting because, in one sense, it'll be interesting, but that's quite scary that it doesn't have that limiting factor of, well, it cares if someone turns it off, Like it doesn't matter. And yeah, I was. Yeah, I think that's an interesting wrinkle to it.

43:42 - Fr Joe Evans (Guest)

That's a fascinating point and also, I think, that points to the dignity of the human person, that humanity is so precious that somehow, even in that most extreme situation of warfare, we want to preserve ourselves. We, instinctively, we know there's something worth preserving which a computer doesn't necessarily have. You know, what is the value of something that doesn't know that it's worth preserving? That doesn't. What is the value of something that doesn't appreciate its own dignity? Well, and of course it doesn't appreciate its own dignity because it's a lump of metal and cables, when all is said and done, whereas you and I, human beings, we're not just a lump of flesh and wires or nerves. We're much more.

44:19 - David Brown (Host)

Yeah, yeah, I'm conscious of time. We're at sort of 45 minutes already. There is one thing I did want to come back to, though, that you mentioned a few minutes ago, which was talking about intelligence, and I think you had something that you wanted to say around human intelligence versus the sort of machine intelligence. Did you have something you wanted to?

44:37 - Fr Joe Evans (Guest)

The yeah. Well, just, I think, simply to say you know that there is that debate about whether you know computers can be more intelligent than human beings, but I think we have to. But really my point was that intelligence is more, is more than technical know-how, and we've got to appreciate that. You know, you go back, you're a very good example. You know a computer, the computer, the AI, quickly worked out that they can take the plane down by going straight for it. You know but it didn't quickly work out or it didn't work out at all that you know the value of human life, the value of you know that pilot's got children. You know that pilot's got a past and a present and a future. Even fear. You know fear is a wonderful quality.

45:19

I think, again, it's we've got to sort of get back to, rather than sort of wanting to somehow get rid of humans in the name of technical efficiency. Again, efficiency is not everything. That's the point. I would even say sometimes, for example, another reason for going slower is you know, how does this affect human lives? Everything is not just efficiency, it's not just wealth, profits. People have to live. So, again, let's get back to valuing and understanding ever more human dignity and realising that humanity is so much more than we realise and much more than mere technical knowledge that you can program into a computer, even if you can make it sort of generative of its own sort of processes.

46:07 - David Brown (Host)

And I guess, lastly, do you have any thoughts on? I think someone set up an AI religion already? I don't know if you've even heard about this and I don't know much about it, but it just occurred to me to think about that. But yeah, somebody's already, you know, started this whole concept of kind of a religion based around AI, and I mean, I think it's crazy, but people are crazy, so you know?

46:36 - Fr Joe Evans (Guest)

Yeah, exactly; I think that's, you know, people are crazy, but we can end up worshipping anything. You know, the idols, one of the big in the ancient world and one of the big problems if you look at the Old Testament, in the Bible, and one of the big issues that the prophets are always dealing with is people setting up idols to worship the work of our hands, which in the end is self-limiting, because you're like they used to worship lumps of wood or animals or they, but that is, we can be dazzled by that, and I think here too we have to be careful not to worship the work of our hands and to recognise our limits. You know, again, I think again and again. So, human creative is a wonderful thing, ai is a wonderful thing, but we've got to recognise our limits, otherwise we can end up destroying ourselves or, at the very least, harming ourselves very, very badly.

47:25

And here, I think, again we go back to, I think, the need to for some clear regulations. I know it's impossible to have absolute watertight regulation, also because AI moves so quickly, technology moves so. But I think let's agree some worldwide principles which then governments have to apply in their perspective in their respective legislature. Maybe an international body with authority recognised by all. Again, bring in the AI business. They're not the enemies; they're the friends. I know we're all about because I'm a journalist by profession and everybody thinks again. You know, they're journalists, that we're devils incarnates, you know, and we're not. A journalist is just an honest bloke or girl doing their job, wanting to find information.

48:11 - David Brown (Host)

You're not the devil, you're just a minor spirit.

48:14 - Fr Joe Evans (Guest)

Just a minor evil, spirit minor blind spirit.

48:15 - David Brown (Host)

You personally be journalists.

48:21 - Fr Joe Evans (Guest)

So you know, I think people are fundamentally good. Actually, I think we need to get back there. People are fundamentally I'm generally one to do the right thing, and we have to recognise that. So let's get everyone involved, let's get some principles, let's develop our knowledge of ethics and the human person, and I think that will be the international agreements, international federations, perhaps cooperation. That's the way forward.

48:45 - David Brown (Host)

Brilliant. And when you have an AI assistant sometime in the next few years, what do you think you might name it?

48:54 - Fr Joe Evans (Guest)

They well, probably because of my magazine Adamah. I think I'd call him Adamah just because I've been so happy with Adema and it's a lovely magazine and so I think I'll talk to you.

49:06 - David Brown (Host)

I have a friend named Adama, and she's a lovely human as well, so that's a great name. Do you know what?

49:10 - Fr Joe Evans (Guest)

Adamah means Adamah means earth, soil, and that's the whole purpose. The idea of our magazine is we want Adam comes from Adamah, the human person comes from the soil. So we want the magazine to be a space where the human person can flourish, can arise. So again, always we want and I think for the whole AI world, all the people involved in this, let's work together for the human person to flourish.

49:34 - David Brown (Host)

Totally agree. And where can? People is there? I mean, obviously, you've got a website for Adamah, so tell everybody where they can find that.

49:42 - Fr Joe Evans (Guest)

Well, just Google.

49:43 - David Brown (Host)

Adema A-D-A-M-A-H media they'll find it and anything else you have you want to promote.

49:51 - Fr Joe Evans (Guest)

Well, I run this for those of you who are more Christians and want to pray, to be helped to pray. I'm lead coordinator of this daily meditation that's called 10 Minutes with Jesus, so it's like a daily 10-minute meditation Again. Just Google 10 Minutes with Jesus, you'll find it, and it's just a way to help people pray and, as they're going through life, on their journey to work, just a very lovely way to connect with God.

50:14 - David Brown (Host)

Brilliant. I'll put links to all that stuff in the show notes as well, so if people are looking at it, you can just click on the link. I'll make it that easy so that they don't have to even Google it.

50:21 - Fr Joe Evans (Guest)

Wonderful.

50:21 - David Brown (Host)

Wonderful Father. Joe, thank you very much for your time today. It's been really interesting and I'm really happy I was able to have this conversation and really to start to dig into it a little bit. Pleasure, david, I've really enjoyed it too. Thank you, cheers, bye-bye.

About the Podcast

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Creatives With AI
The spiritual home of creatives curious about AI and its role in their future

About your host

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David Brown

A technology entrepreneur with over 25 years' experience in corporate enterprise, working with public sector organisations and startups in the technology, digital media, data analytics, and adtech industries. I am deeply passionate about transforming innovative technology into commercial opportunities, ensuring my customers succeed using innovative, data-driven decision-making tools.

I'm a keen believer that the best way to become successful is to help others be successful. Success is not a zero-sum game; I believe what goes around comes around.

I enjoy seeing success — whether it’s yours or mine — so send me a message if there's anything I can do to help you.