I recently had to replace my MacBook of 6 years when it started to slowly die. I decided to return to a Windows based operating system, so I ordered a Dell. After setting it up, I was startled to see how much AI technology is available on the computer considering it was the basic model. In fact, new changes and updates seem to be added regularly at a startling pace. I recently saw an advertisement on YouTube about an AI “buddy” you could chat with depicting an impossibly beautiful woman—and obviously not real—and deep horror struck my heart as I began to think about all of the lonely young people in the world who could easily buy the lie that an AI “relationship” is real.
Artificial Intelligence is quickly taking over all of our devices. The rise of ChatGPT was simply the beginning. The implications for this technology morally, spiritually, and humanly is gravely serious. Have we seriously considered the very dangerous path we are walking down and have we considered who exactly is leading us there? As Catholics, we are called to discern the proper use of technology in order to ensure that we do not fall into false idolatry, spiritual slavery, addiction, or immorality. We have to make sure the technology we use is leading us to sanctity, not away from the Lord.
What started as a desire for connectivity, has in many ways, given way to a leviathan that looks more like a form of anti-communion. Our culture has never been lonelier even as it is the most connected at any point in world history. I know that I will be rather unpopular for pointing this out, but when I was still plugged into social media and as I grew in my spiritual life, I started to see social media as a false form of communion. It’s community without the real, deep connection that in person relationships requires. The sacrificial dimension of relationships was missing. Love requires sacrifice and presence, not likes and endless screens.
We have been lulled into a false belief that the virtual world matters more than the one in our homes and right outside of our doors. In many ways, it takes the Church away from the Church. We saw this clearly during COVID when Mass was reduced to livestreaming, but social media does the same thing. It reduces relationships to pixels. The COVID lockdowns convinced a lot of people that being bodily present is not necessary. I encounter this constantly serving in pastoral care at the hospital. I heard it numerous times from people of all ages when I was a Director of Faith Formation. “I watch Mass online and I don’t need to come back.”
The Internet, and especially social media, laid the ground work for detaching our relationships from matter. What I mean is, we no longer believe that we need to be within the physical presence with someone or the Someone who is supposed to be the center of our lives, Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. The dualism of our age, has reached an apex through Artificial Intelligence. Social media was simply the catalyst that divorced us from one another.
Instead of getting together in person and truly catching up with one another, we convinced ourselves that the constant updating—so often ego driven, I was very guilty of this—and likes constitutes relationships. If this were true then we would not have a loneliness epidemic. Social media has isolated, divided, and addicted us, which is the perfect time for Artificial Intelligence to come in and save the day. All of those lonely kids who should not have smartphones can turn to a “friend” who truly understands them on an AI platform. We can have AI perform all of our mundane tasks for us that were meant to help sanctify us. If students have a paper to write, then ChatGPT can write it for them. Why should we do any work ourselves if AI can take care of it?
We are quickly entering an age of unreality, when we will not know if what we are seeing on our screen is real or not. The loss of Aristotelian-Thomistic mind-object agreement has ushered in relativism, but this takes on a whole new level of detachment from reality. We will not be able to trust our senses at all. It’s already all over social media and the newer computers. ChatGPT constantly shows up somewhere on my computer or web browser. I went through and disabled as much as I could.
Our children will face temptations and alienation at a scale we never dreamed of when we were sitting on the couch listening to our Walkmans. Multiple generations of kids are addicted to technology, as are all of us adults. The battle is alive and well in my own home. My daughter is allowed to use my phone to text and call her friends. She will not get a phone until she’s driving and we will never buy her a smartphone. She can buy one when she is 18 if she chooses.
She was very upset when I gave up my iPhone for the Light phone a seminarian friend gave to me when he returned to Rome. I tried to point out to her that her dependence on my iPhone is a serious problem. My dependence on my iPhone was a hindrance to me spiritually. She still can talk to her friends on Google Meet to do homework on my laptop at times, but technology has convinced all of us that we need to be in constant communication.
Kids rarely do homework together anymore because they virtually meet. Whether we realize it or not, this is still isolation. Not to mention, in the world of highly addictive smartphones, there can be no downtime, and above all, no silence. There is little silence, which means little peace. We cannot hear God without periods of silence. Why are we shocked that kids are highly anxious and fearful?
The spiritual dangers of this age will increase as newer and newer advances in AI are released to the public. Have we considered who might be leading us towards what is beginning to feel like another Tower of Babel moment? People are shocked when I tell them demons text and email exorcists. They didn’t realize demons do work through technology for their evil purposes. Everyone who is working with AI has pointed out they feel like they are talking to a conscious being. Who exactly do we think it might be who is rushing us over this cliff?
Our children are addicted to smartphones and we laugh about it and shrug it off. ChatGPT is now making it impossible for teachers to know whether or not their students are doing their own work. AI is now making “art”. There are AI “buddies” to talk to and do whatever with. All of this is creating an artificial world, so that we don’t have to deal with the mundanity and sufferings of this life. We no longer need to look at a magnificent sunset, when AI has made one on our screens. We don’t need in person relationships because we can create our own relationships dominated by our own ego with AI or social media.
Social media was a primer, and in many ways, cut us off from one another. Countless people sit in restaurants staring at their phones while flesh and blood people are at the table with them. I lived this way for over a decade, but when I finally started to unplug from it, I could see all of the time I wasted and the addiction I had fallen into. Soon people will sit at the table ignoring each other while they talk to AI. This is clearly not of the Lord. We know things by their fruits. As Catholics, we are called to exercise prudence, not jump on every bandwagon that comes along without any thought.
The answer for Catholics is to choose reality. To accept the Cross. Suffering is an essential part of purification and sanctification in this life. It is the furnace of Divine Love where we learn how to love. We cannot love people through a screen because we cannot be there to will their good, except of course through our prayers and encouraging words. This is always a good thing, but there are people in our homes, parishes, and towns who need us. The people in front of us are the ones the Lord has assigned to us to walk with in this life; whether it’s a lifetime with a spouse, children, parents, or a quick encounter at the grocery store. We can’t see these people so long as we prefer an unreality. Somewhere along the way, in our rush to “evangelize” the Internet, we forgot our own principles of solidarity and subsidiarity.
As Catholics we need to very seriously consider the implications of where AI is leading us, as well as what technology addiction is doing to all of us. Do we want our kids cheating on their homework? Do we want AI art and photography to warp our sense of beauty? Do we want to be a part of a lonely society turning to AI for “relationships”? There is going to come a moment when we will have to place a line in the sand, God or AI. The decision we will face very soon is that serious.