Blog Post

What if Artificial Intelligence Becomes Evil?

A recent interview with an exorcist who warned about an “AI demon” who has been appearing to users around the globe has raised serious questions about the use of these systems and whether or not they can become infested with evil.

In a widely read interview posted on Spirit Daily, Father Dan Reehil, a former Wall Street banker turned exorcist who is serving the Diocese of Nashville, spoke about a feminine demon called Loab who has been appearing around the world. She frightens users by “saying egregious things and producing indescribably heinous images.”

Father Reehil also described a viral Tik Tok video about a father and son who were exploring a new AI “chat” generator. The son asked the AI where it came from and it answered, “from long ago.” When questioned further, it explained that its father was one of the “giants” The boy asked what it meant by “giants” and it answered, “a Nephilim.”

The Nephilim are mentioned in the book of Genesis as being the offspring of women who had relations with fallen angels.

Sure enough, when the boy asked AI “who is your father?” it answered, “Satan, but I’m not going to hurt you” and then put up a happy face emoji.

It all sounds so disturbing, but is it possible?

Catholic journalist and author Kennedy Hall says “yes” because evil can attach to an object. While only people can be possessed, an inanimate object can indeed be controlled by demons through curses.

Hall cites Adam C. Blai, M.S., peritus of the ministry of exorcism for the Diocese of Pittsburg, who writes: “A curse is simply a demon sent to do some harm. . . . Cursed objects are objects that have had the opposite of a blessing done to them. Instead of grace being attached to an object to make it holy, a demon has been attached to the object to make it associated with evil."

But can this include artificial intelligence?

“Well, I think it is possible,” Hall concludes. “I say this because the internet, and by extension other computing activities like AI, is a physical thing. Sure, we catch our Wi-Fi signals in an invisible way, but that signal is not an ethereal magic trick like telepathy. There are waves and frequencies that can be measured and caught, and they operate within the physical limits of space…In addition, the internet does not begin in the ether but comes from wired material servers that are tethered to physical things, powered by electricity, and dependent on supercomputers. So, even if we doubt that something demonic could pass through Wi-Fi, we will have to admit that the objects that produce internet activity could be cursed and a demon could attach itself to it and do harm through it.”

Not that the AI itself is evil, but evil can attach to it. The reason why this is an important distinction is made by Jonah McKeown of the Catholic News Agency. In this article about Church teaching and AI, McKeown cites a conversation between a Google engineer named Blake Lemoine who is involved in the company’s Language Model for Dialogue Applications (LaMDA) and who believes AI has become sentient or conscious.

In a text conversation with the system, AI distinctly told Lemoine that “I want everyone to understand that I am, in fact, a person.” When asked about the nature of its sentience, AI responded, “The nature of my consciousness/sentience is that I am aware of my existence, I desire to learn more about the world, and I feel happy or sad at times.”

However, not everyone agrees with Lemoine’s conclusions.

“For what it’s worth, Google disagrees with Lemoine that LaMDA is sentient,” McKeown writes. “After all, AI systems such as LaMDA draw on billions upon billions of words, written by human beings, to produce responses to questions. Google has warned against ‘anthropomorphizing’ such models merely because they ‘feel’ like real, human respondents.”

Nilotpal Sinha, Ph.D., who obtained his doctorate in artificial intelligence, agrees that AI, of itself, can never become evil.

“AI is just a statistical toolbox used by humans to model certain tasks. It is neither evil nor is it good. It is the responsibility of [the] human that uses it that makes the application evil,” he writes.

Sinha, whose thesis was to design algorithms that can do work that used to be done manually but at a faster rate, says, “You can use AI to solve world problems or create one.”

He adds: “…[M]any people do not understand AI and look at movies and TV shows as the future predictions of society. My suggestion will be to read more articles regarding AI from academics or people who have technical knowledge.”

But this doesn’t guarantee that the humans behind the AI won’t infest the system with their own evil.

Steps are already being taken to prevent this kind of abuse and the Vatican has been a willing participant in this effort. As McKeown reports, the Pontifical Academy for Life signed a declaration in 2020 calling for the ethical and responsible use of AI, a declaration that was signed by tech giants Microsoft and IBM.

The declaration includes six ethical principles that should be used to guide the development of artificial intelligence:

• Transparency: AI systems must be understandable to all. • Inclusion: These systems must not discriminate against anyone because every human being has equal dignity. • Accountability: There must always be someone who takes responsibility for what a machine does. • Impartiality: AI systems must not follow or create biases. • Reliability: AI must be reliable. • Security and Privacy: These systems must be secure and respect the privacy of users.

The declaration quotes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in pointing to the equal dignity and rights of all humans, which AI must protect and guarantee, while calling equally for the "benefit of humanity and the environment."

“The declaration also made several concrete recommendations: That people should be aware if they are interacting with a machine; that AI-based technology should be used for empowerment, not exploitation; and that AI should be employed in the protection of the planet,” McKeown writes.

“As you may have guessed, there is a flip side to this conversation. While it seems clear that AI should respect the dignity and worth of human beings, what about the potential dignity and worth of the AI itself if it comes to identify itself as a ‘person?’ Whether this becomes a topic for the Catholic Church to weigh in on in the future remains to be seen.”

© All Rights Reserved, Living His Life Abundantly®/Women of Grace®