South by Southwest (SXSW) is finally happening, and some of the biggest names in tech, music, media, and film have gathered in Austin, Texas for the event. Among the most unlikely guests, there is one that stands out: The Vatican.
The Vatican’s Adjunct Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Bishop Paul Tighe, flew down to Austin for the weekend to attend the Interactive Conference of the nine-day festival and host a panel titled Compassionate Disruption.
The panel is one of the hottest events this year, attracting the attention of both advocates and detractors in a stage that is usually reserved for dissenting voices and progressive thinkers. The Church says, though, they are not at SXSW to preach but to communicate.
The Church has had a hard time online
Understandably, the Catholic Church has not been the most well-received entity on the Internet, especially after the boom of social media and their decision in recent years to take part in the discussion.
Bishop Tighe, who is in charge of running the Pope’s social media accounts, says it has been somewhat of a hostile welcome after Pope Benedict decided to join Twitter five years ago.
@Pontifex is the official account for the highest authority in the Church, a seat currently held by Pope Francis. Under this new leadership, the social media strategy imposed by His Holiness has been to have a more direct approach to people online.
The Vatican does plenty of preaching at churches around the world, so the end goal of virtual windows such as Twitter and Facebook is not to spread the word but to reach people and engage them in a dialogue about principles and values.
Compassionate Disruption speaks to connected people
The panel hosted by Bishop Tighe tackled some hard questions about the dilemmas between ever-advancing technology and the somewhat static foundations of Catholic Church.
The dawn of artificial intelligence and the widespread phenomenon of big data raised some questions about the world of tomorrow, leaving clear that there are lines that will need to be drawn to establish a moral order.
On the question of why we should turn to religion if the Internet has all the answers, the Bishop said leaving our free will in the hands of machines is the ultimate treason to our essence as individuals.
“IF WE SAY BIG DATA WILL TELL US WHAT’S RIGHT OR WRONG, THEN I AM NO LONGER AN AGENT, AND MY CHOICES HAVE BEEN DETERMINED FOR ME. THAT DOESN’T CORRESPOND TO MY EXPERIENCE OF BEING HUMAN,” he said.
Regarding AI, the Vatican’s correspondent said that, when the time came, programmers needed to work to instill human values and attitudes in these learning machines somehow so that we can ensure an ethical and safe work environment.