Tuesday 20 February 2024

Artificial Intelligence - Father Andrew Pinsent and Sean Biggins and Robert Seed - CTS Explanations

Artificial Intelligence
Fr Andrew Pinsent
Sean Biggins
Robert Seed
Catholic Truth Society
ISBN 9781784697631
eISBN 9781784697150
CTS Booklet EX68

Artificial Intelligence - Father Andrew Pinsent and Sean Biggins and Robert Seed - CTS Explanations

I eagerly anticipated this volume from the time it was announced. Once the physical volume was released I kept checking every day until the digital edition was available. As someone who works in IT, it is a hot topic item. With organizations both embracing and shying away from it. The volume was delayed and pushed back over three months, but it was well worth the wait. I have already started recommending it to friends and co-workers, some who are Catholic and other are not and I believe they will really appreciate the book.

A few years back I stumbled upon the books and booklets from the Catholic Truth Society. I instantly fell in love with the clear and concise writing. I have read over 375 unique titles from the CTS and many of them more than once, and I have been blessed and benefited from almost all of them. This is the second volume I have read from the pen of Father Andrew Pinsent. 

This volume is an excellent read, in a wonderful series! The description of this book is:

“What do the advances in Artificial Intelligence mean for the Church and the world? Fr Andrew Pinsent recounts the history of “intelligent machines”, evaluates the impact of AI at present, and offers informed speculation about the future relationship between humans and AI.

We all use Artificial Intelligence, or AI, online. It determines our search engine results, curates our social media feed, and guides how we click through websites. Recent refinements in AI mean that it can compose text and produce images faster, and sometimes better, than humans. Chatbots are used for customer service and online diagnostic tools, and as social surrogates. The better AI mimics human activity, the more questions it raises: Is AI smarter than humans? Could it ever become human? Could it replace us? What do the advances in Artificial Intelligence mean for society, the Church, and the world?

In this book Fr Andrew Pinsent answers these questions and many more as he recounts the history of “intelligent machines”, evaluates the nature and impact of the present capabilities of AI, and offers some informed speculation about the future relationship between humans and artificial intelligence.”

And the chapters and sections in this little volume are:

The Current Situation Regarding Artificial Intelligence
     What does ‘artificial intelligence’ mean?
     Recent developments in AI
     Opportunities and risks for human labour and creativity
     Existential threats?
Some Overlooked Limitations of Artificial Intelligence
     Introduction: the story of Vaucanson’s duck
     Absence of understanding
     Absence of attention and free will
     Absence of truth and goodness
Questions and Answers
     Ethics of AI use
     AI, society and culture
     AI and the Catholic faith
     Speculations and “what ifs” about AI

I highlighted numerous passages while reading the first half of this this volume. The second half was fascinating but I did not highlight anything the first time through. Some of them are:

“At the time of writing, there is huge excitement about the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), a term that covers a large and growing range of activities previously regarded as requiring exclusively human intelligence.”

“Although the Catholic Church has made no definitive statement about AI, the issues surrounding AI are already having an impact on Catholics around the world.1 In the spring of 2020, the Pontifical Academy for Life joined government bodies and major tech companies in signing a declaration calling for the ethical and responsible use of AI.”

“In support of this intention and the needs of the Catholic faithful, the Catholic Truth Society (CTS) is pleased to offer this booklet as a summary of the issues regarding AI today. Consistent with the theme, we used a generative AI image for the cover of this book.”

“By making a distinction between the machine (the hardware) and the instructions (the software), a single machine could, in effect, be turned into an unlimited number of different machines by running different software.”

“Since at least 1975, following the invention of the integrated circuit, the number of transistors on these circuits, a measure of raw computing power, has doubled about every two years, ultimately giving rise to supercomputers and the entire paraphernalia of contemporary consumer electronics.”

“The term ‘AI’ is arguably overused, but machines that can be called AIs are now better at producing humanlike responses than ever before. Probably the best-known example of this development at the time of writing is ChatGPT, designed by the US organisation OpenAI.”

“ChatGPT is a type of algorithm called a ‘large language model’, but it is sufficient here to understand that these models are just particular kinds of neural network algorithms. Such networks consist of ‘neurons’ with weighted connections between them, and these weightings are adjusted in response to training data.”

“What is clear is that approaches using neural networks have proven capable of performing tasks previously intractable for computers, such as visually classifying types of galaxies, translating languages, and playing challenging games, sometimes extremely well.”

“The transition to this state of liberty may be somewhat traumatic for individuals and societies, but AI-related technologies may also liberate and vastly expand human discoveries and invention.”

“The current renewed surge of interest in AI has reignited these fears. In March 2023, researchers and executives in the tech industry circulated an open letter requesting that governments institute a six-month moratorium on AI research to prevent the technology from being developed in unsafe ways that could threaten human well-being.”

“The story of Vaucanson’s duck has some obvious lessons. First, machines can, indeed, be constructed that do, or appear to do, some of the things that animals or human beings do. Second, one must be careful of assuming that these machines are doing things in the way that animals or human beings do, even when the inputs and outputs seem the same.”

“Finally, there is the fact that Vaucanson faked the capabilities of his mechanical masterpiece, which may hint at a broader risk, namely that human beings are tempted to promise more than their technologies can deliver.”

“To summarise, AIs will often generate far faster and more accurate data than is possible for human beings, and AI is not deliberately deceptive. Nevertheless, given the absence of the covenant of truth, which is implicit in most human interactions, AIs may also perfectly easily generate data that are plausibly accurate but wrong, or that lack judgements about truth. Similarly, AI can just as easily generate moral as immoral conclusions, provided the calculations are correct. Care is therefore needed to check that plausible and efficient AI outputs are also both true and good.”

“Most of the dangers surrounding AI are in fact ultimately due to the absence of capabilities associated with human intelligence, namely the absence of understanding, the absence of attention and free will, and the absence of a grasp of truth and goodness.”

I hope those quotes give you a feel for this volume. To be honest when reading it; it is not until you get to the Q and A section towards the end that there is significant Catholic content. Because of that I have recommended it to a number of non-Catholic friends and colleagues. 

There is a lot of great material in this little volume. The first part of the book is an examination of the history of computing, the current state of AI and some predictions of possible changes of capabilities. I will be honest while reading I thought about the movie Blade Runner often. 

This is an excellent little volume. It seems every time I read a book from the Catholic Truth Society I find 2 or three others I want to read. I have an ever growing wish list of eBooks, books in print, and books out of print I want to track down. I really enjoyed this volume. This is an excellent read, in a great series, and one I can easily recommend.  

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2024 Catholic Reading Plan! For other reviews of books from the Catholic Truth Society click here.

For reviews of other books in the CTS Explanations series click here.

Books in the CTS Explanations Series:
Marriage Annulment in the Catholic Church
Jehovah’s Witnesses
Does the Church oppress Women?
Organ Transplant – and the definition of Death
Be Yourself An Explanation of Humility - William Lawson SJ
Gene Therapy – and Human Genetic Engineering
Prenatal tests
Gift of life and Love
Cloning and Stem Cell Research
Contraception and Chastity
Freemasonry and the Christian Faith
Intelligent Life in the Universe
Spirits, Mediums & The Afterlife

What is Truth? Evangelising the Post-Modern World - Joshua Madden - CTS Explanations

Artificial Intelligence - Father Andrew Pinsent and Sean Biggins and Robert Seed - CTS Explanations

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