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Artificial intelligence “preaches” sermon in church

Advances in artificial intelligence likely will have an impact on the future of the church. In a possible glimpse of the future, hundreds of people recently attended a Protestant church service in Germany that  was generated almost entirely by artificial intelligence, with a sermon presented by the AI chatbot ChatGPT.

The chatbot, which presented as a black man with a beard above the altar of St. Paul’s Church in Fürth, Bavaria, told the packed congregation not to fear death, according to Fox News. “Dear friends, it is an honor for me to stand here and preach to you as the first artificial intelligence at this year’s convention of Protestants in Germany,” the AI avatar said.

The service, which was attended by more than 300 people, lasted 40 minutes and featured prayers and music in addition to the sermon. University of Vienna theologian and philosopher Jonas Simmerlein used ChatGPT to craft the event, “I conceived this service, but actually I rather accompanied it, because I would say about 98 percent comes from the machine,” Simmerlein told the Associated Press.

The service was part of Deutscher Evangelischer Kirchentag, a popular biennial event that occurs in Nuremburg and nearby Fürth and attracts tens of thousands of Christians. Issues addressed at the event this year included climate change, the war in Ukraine and AI.

“I told the artificial intelligence. ‘We are at the church congress, you are a preacher … what would a church service look like?’” said Simmerlein, who also requested the chatbot implement psalms, prayers and a concluding blessing in the sermon.

The chatbot’s sermon focused on leaving the past behind, paying attention to the present, not being afraid of death and maintaining faith in Jesus Christ. Four different AI avatars took turns leading the service and reportedly drew laughter at times for their monotonous, deadpan delivery.

Simmerlein noted the drawbacks, noting that no human interaction was able to take place between the chatbot and the congregation. “The pastor is in the congregation, she lives with them, she buries the people, she knows them from the beginning,” he said. “Artificial intelligence cannot do that. It does not know the congregation.”

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