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Tim RyanJune 11, 20246 min read

Happiness and Technology: AI and God

We, humans, have largely succeeded in easing our lives using technology to optimize our Level 1 ability to survive and thrive, such as helping us be more productive in hunting and fishing. This ability to be more productive while saving time enabled us to spend more time developing even more technologies to help us be even more productive and achieve greater status (Level 2). As our deeper desire to do good for others came to the fore, we could justify more technology because we could do even more good in the world (Level 3). 

These justifications prompted a dramatic evolution in computing capabilities to the point that we can even create artificial intelligence to help us see images and analyze volumes of data that our limited human brains cannot comprehend. But have we considered the full breadth of implications of this technological boom? Where do we look for the most pervasive, enduring, and deep happiness? Do we trust the work of our own hands and machines over the wisdom of our Divine Creator? 

A Personal History with AI

I earned my bachelor’s degree in computer science in 1982. After going to work at General Motors, I enrolled in a master’s program in computer science. At that time, I was introduced to artificial intelligence and began working on it (40 years ago!). I took classes in AI and initiated a project at General Motors applying AI concepts. My leadership selected me to go away for eight months to be trained as a “knowledge engineer.” However, even at that time, something wasn’t sitting right with me regarding this thing called Artificial Intelligence

It wasn’t a fear of some grand robotic uprising, although that’s right about the time the movie Terminator came out; it was more so a concern as to how AI, and advancing technology in general, might be desensitizing us to our own intellect, both cognitively and spiritually, thus turning our decision-making responsibility over to machines. So I decided to decline the training and drop out of my master’s program, but somewhat ironically, a little later down the road, I went back to school to earn a master’s in Pastoral Studies focusing on individual and organizational meaning and purpose.

AI Rooted in Our Intellect (A Gift from God)

Technology is not a bad thing at all; the genesis of it is rooted in our intellect, which is a gift from God. AI offers some compelling capabilities to enhance our lives, particularly in safety and security. Consider, though, akin to what St. Ignatius taught regarding the discernment of spirits, we need to be wary as to whether our use of technology is leading us to God or away from God. Is it truly helping us to contribute to building the Kingdom, or is it tempting us to focus on the pleasures of Level 1 and human accomplishments of Level 2 while drawing us away from the full spectrum of our human intellect? We refer again to the Second Vatican Council, almost 60 years ago, that raised our consciousness to this concern: 

"Man judges rightly that by his intellect he surpasses the material universe, for he shares in the light of the divine mind. By relentlessly employing his talents through the ages he has indeed made progress in the practical sciences and in technology and the liberal arts. In our times he has won superlative victories, especially in his probing of the material world and subjecting it to himself. Still he has always searched for more penetrating truths, and finds them. For his intelligence is not confined to the observable data alone, but he can with genuine certitude attain to reality itself as knowable, though in the consequence of sin that certitude is partly obscured and weakened.

The intellectual nature of the human person is perfected by wisdom and needs to be, for wisdom gently attracts the mind of man to a quest and a love for what is true and good. Steeped in wisdom, man passes through visible realities to those which are unseen." —Gaudium et Spes, Chapter 1

Artificial intelligence and technology CANNOT perfect this wisdom for us. We cannot turn to technology to help us overcome the consequences of our sins. Artificial Intelligence is based on observable data and rules. Yes, the computer can be programmed to “learn” (i.e., glean factual conclusions), but it cannot attain the “reality which is unseen.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church attests to the transcendence of this wisdom that we seek in referring to the Book of Wisdom:

Wisdom is a breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty; therefore, nothing defiled gains entrance into her. For she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of His goodness. For wisdom is more beautiful than the Sun, and excels every constellation of the stars. Compared with the light she is found to be superior, for it is succeeded by the night, but against wisdom evil does not prevail [underline added]. —CCC 2500

We Can’t Find Transcendence in AI or Technology

One of the core lessons in understanding Level 4 happiness is rooted in something Plato posited over 2000 years ago: that our ultimate desire as human beings is to seek the transcendent, that is, perfect and unconditional truth, love, goodness/fairness, beauty, and being (or a sense of home/belonging)—the more penetrating truths. Even if a person does not believe in God or some higher power, they are still drawn to these ideals. 

Recall Fr. Spitzer’s lesson regarding the trap of the Category Error. If we try to satisfy these transcendent desires in what we humans create, we will be forever frustrated and always wanting. Such is the case with our advances in science and technology. We have made great strides in these areas to ease our life on this earth, but this is not the whole truth. As stated above, our intellectual nature is perfected by divine wisdom. 

“When we expect our worldly systems to be the means to this perfection we seek, we end up with dashed realists, dashed rationalists, dashed idealists, and dashed romantics who become the worst cynics and the worst of skeptics, They wind up sometimes being the destroyers of culture in the disappointment they feel because they are not satisfied.” —Fr. Spitzer

Moving Beyond AI and Technology: Where Should We Seek Satisfaction?

So what is the solution to this dilemma—where should we seek this satisfaction? As we established previously, humility is the key. Recognizing that our intellect is incomplete if not perfected by divine wisdom. God is the vine; we are the branches. Science and technology have a place in our lives, but we have to keep it in its proper place. We need to contemplate where we are ultimately placing our trust. In solutions that reflect only limited temporal control or in the eternal power of perfect and unconditional truth, love, fairness, beauty, and being (i.e., the wisdom of our heavenly Abba Father)? This becomes another point of contemplation for our daily Examen.

See to it that no one captivate you with an empty, seductive philosophy according to human tradition, according to the elemental powers of the world and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells the whole fullness of the deity bodily, and you share in this fullness in Him, who is the head of every principality and power. Col 2:8-10



Tim Ryan

Tim Ryan has worked for over thirty years in the secular workplace as an information technology professional in both consultative and executive roles. Throughout his career, he recognized the importance of relationships and a sense of purpose in the effective performance of organizations. This recognition evolved into a set of skills related to strategic planning and organizational development. He soon recognized how these principles coalesced with theological values that extol the need for a shared vision, values, and meaning. His recognition led him to an academic pursuit, resulting in a Master of Pastoral Studies degree from Loyola University New Orleans, emphasizing spirituality in the workplace and marketplace ministry. Tim has been trained in Fr. Spitzer's content for 15 years and started working for the Spitzer Center in 2017.