Tech bros are playing God, Catholic Church's AI priest complains

Effective altruism blamed for Silicon Valley's desire to heal humanity's woes

Billionaire tech bros have a "tendency to play God," according to one of the Almighty's representatives on Earth.

Franciscan friar Paolo Benanti is among the Vatican's pre-eminent voices on artificial intelligence, on hand to steer the Pope on technology-related matters, including deepfakes.

Already part of the Italian government's inspectorate assessing AI's impact on the wider world, as well as working with the UN and the Vatican on the subject, he was last week appointed to research the technology's influence on the media and participated in talks in Rome on AI with Bill Gates and Italy's prime minister, Giorgia Meloni.

Yet it is the machismo and egos of the richest men on the planet that came into focus during an interview with the Catholic Church's holy man at the weekend.

"There is a paternalism in Silicon Valley, a tendency to play God, meaning a desire to do good for people whether they like it or not, which I want to challenge," Benanti told The Times.

He blamed "effective altruism" for the movement, a way to "maximize" work for charity that has proved so popular among the elite. Let's face it, tech bros are better placed to decide how their tax money should be spent than any government, so why not maximize their tax position then shower the world with largess to make us love them?

"Should you save a drowning man if he is Hitler's father?" Benanti asked The Times. "And what if he is Hitler's grandfather or great-grandfather? Effective altruists are wondering how many generations they should count and be prepared to sacrifice to stop Hitler, but you cannot make that decision. We are not the saviors of the world."

Michael Dell touched upon this some years back at Davos, when he discussed why it would be wrong for people to pay 70 percent tax rates on annual earnings above $10 million. At that point he was just the 39th richest person on the planet. These days he's 15th, thanks in part to some commercial moves with VMware.

There is, however, perhaps no better example of paternalistic tech bro culture than the city in California a bunch of billionaires want to erect as a monument to progress, showing us a way of life that can be achieved … wanted or not.

The advent of generative AI whipped up such mainstream media hype that talk across the industry and wider world has invariably landed on the development and technical progress of artificial general intelligence, which seems a long way off.

The uber-wealthy tech bro brigade should, in fact, be more concerned with the use of AI by humans for unholy purposes than AI itself, said the friar. "I am more worried about natural stupidity than artificial intelligence."

Like the stunt that saw Pope Francis dressed in a white puffer jacket last year, perhaps?

Given the lack of faith about the cerebral processing power of men and women, will humanity one day switch their allegiance to an AI program rather than some other human-made deity?

"Since the focus will always be on using AI for profit, a more likely scenario is people using the online evidence of a dead person to create an AI bot that descendants can talk to – a kind of digital mummy," he said. And can AI prove the existence of God? "Can it persuade us either way? Yes. Can it prove it? No."

So does Benanti think the tech bros will stop trying to play God? No. It seems not.

"They see this power and responsibility gives them a mission but often lack a philosophical foundation. There is a real search for spirituality, meaning the use of shamans and LSD. What it is, however, is a search for religion."

So that must be why so many are microdosing on shrooms in California and other tech hotbeds of innovation these days. And here was us thinking that they were merely praying at the altar of capitalism. ®

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