Can a chatbot preach a good sermon? Hundreds attend church service to find out

The artificial intelligence chatbot asked users believers in the church of St. Paul in the Bavarian town of Fuerthwhich was full of people, to get up from the benches and praise the Lord.

The ChatGPT chatbot, personified by an avatar of a bearded black man on a giant screen above the altar, began to preach to the more than 300 people who had shown up on Friday morning for an experimental Lutheran church service, generated almost entirely by AI.

“Dear friends, it is an honor for me to be here and preach to you as the first artificial intelligence at this year’s Protestant convention in Germany,” the avatar said with an expressionless face and monotone voice.

The 40-minute service, which includes the sermon, lThe prayers and the music, was created by ChatGPT and Jonas Simmerlein, a theologian and philosopher at the University of Vienna.

“I envisioned this service, but actually I’d rather go along with it, because I’d say about 98% of it comes from the machine,” the 29-year-old academic told The Associated Press.

The church service of AI was one of hundreds of events at the convention of protesters in the Bavarian cities of Nuremberg and neighboring Fuerth, and it aroused such immense interest that people formed a long queue outside the 19th-century neo-Gothic building an hour before it started.

The convention itself, Deutscher Evangelischer Kirchentag in German, is held every two years during the summer at a different location in Germany and draws tens of thousands of believers to pray, sing and talk about their faith. They also talk about world news and look for solutions to key problems, which this year included global warming, the war in Ukraine and artificial intelligence.

This year’s meeting takes place from Wednesday to Sunday under the motto “Now is the time”. That catchphrase was one of the phrases that Simmerlein gave to ChatGPT when he asked the chatbot to develop the sermon.

“I said to the artificial intelligence, ‘We’re at the church meeting, you’re a preacher… what would a church service look like?’” Simmerlein said. He also asked that psalms be included, as well as prayers and a blessing at the end.

“You end up with a pretty solid church service,” Simmerlein said, sounding almost surprised by the success of his experiment.

In fact, the believers in the church listened attentively as the artificial intelligence preached about leaving the past behindfocus on the challenges of the present, overcome the fear of death and never lose confidence in Jesus Christ.

The entire service was “run” by four different avatars on the screenTwo young women and two young men.

Sometimes the AI-generated avatar would inadvertently elicit laughter, such as when he used platitudes and told worshipers with a deadpan expression that to stop “keep our faith, we must pray and go to church regularly”.

Some people enthusiastically videotaped the event on their cell phones, while others looked more critically and refused to speak out loud during the Lord’s Prayer.

Heiderose Schmidt, a 54-year-old woman who works in IT, said she was excited and curious when the service started, but he found it more and more unpleasant as he went on.

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“There was no heart or soul,” he said. “The avatars showed no emotions at all, had no body language, and spoke so fast and monotonously that it was very difficult for me to concentrate on what they were saying.”

“But maybe it’s different for the younger generation that grew up with all this,” Schmidt added.

Marc Jansen, a 31-year-old Lutheran pastor from Troisdorf, near the western German city of Cologne, took a group of teenagers from his congregation to St. Paul. He was most impressed by the experiment.

“In fact, I had imagined worse. But I was positively surprised at how well it worked. Also, the AI ​​language worked well, although it was still a bit patchy at times,” Jansen said.

What the young shepherd missed, however, Was it any kind of emotion or spirituality, which he says is essential when writing your own sermons.

The service was also attended by Anna Puzio, 28, a researcher in technology ethics at the University of Twente in the Netherlands. She said that she sees many opportunities in the use of AI in religion, such as making religious services more accessible and inclusive for believers who, for various reasons, are unable to experience their faith in person with others in places of worship. worship.

However, he noted that there are also dangers when it comes to the use of AI in religion.

“The challenge I see is that AI is very human-like and it’s easy to be fooled by it,” he said.

“Also, we don’t have a single Christian opinion, and that’s what AI has to stand for as well,” he said. “We have to be careful that it is not misused to spread a single opinion.”

Simmerlein said it is not his intention to replace religious leaders with artificial intelligence. Rather, he sees the use of the AI as a way to help them with their daily work in their congregations.

Some pastors look to literature for inspiration, he says, so why not ask AI for ideas on an upcoming sermon? Others would like more time for individual spiritual guidance of their parishioners, so why not speed up the sermon writing process with the help of a chatbot to free up time for other important tasks?

“Artificial intelligence will increasingly take over our lives, in all its facets,” Simmerlein said. “And so it’s helpful to learn how to deal with it.”

However, the experimental church service also showed the limits of implementing artificial AI in the church or in religion. There was no real interaction between believers and the chatbot, which was unable to respond to laughter or any other reaction from parishionersas a human shepherd would have done.

“The pastor is in the congregation, she lives with them, she buries the people, she knows them from the beginning,” Simmerlein said. “Artificial intelligence can’t do that. He doesn’t know the congregation.”

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