I truly have no business even broaching this subject. Honestly, I feel a little silly doing so. I am not a theologian or philosopher, nor am I a technologist. In fact, I am less adequate to discuss this now than when I first started my rough draft of this blog post a while back. And perhaps even less so today than just last week. Every day more information, both praises and warnings, are coming out about AI. Man’s relationship to technology is changing at a breathtaking pace! Still, this is a subject we should consider as we minister and as we recognize changes in the way media is delivered up to consumers.
We have observed the pattern of automated radio taking the place of live broadcasts. A small local station with a talented announcer who is in touch with the pulse of his local community is replaced by a national feed. Spontaneity is killed and the personal touch has disappeared.
A long-distance radio station with pre-produced programming chooses to automate recycled programming without much thought or consideration of the needs of the audience. Programming can easily be set to automatically repeat.
In the future, is it possible AI-generated sermons and teachings will be commonplace? Recently ChatGPT was used to write a sermon that simply connected correlating information into a message. The conclusion? The “sermon” was merely adequate. It lacked the depth of human reasoning and spiritual insight. This is not a surprise since robots do not have a soul, nor personal experiences to put information into a context. Imperfect outcomes are unlikely to discourage designers, however. Instead, they are likely to improve the sophistication of their design in order to increase acceptance.
As society evolves technically, will God use automation and robots to bring people to Himself? Surely God can use any means to reach a person. He has used both animate and inanimate objects to get a message across and to reveal His glory. However, Would He prefer to use an inanimate object that man has contrived rather than working through His children? This seems inconsistent with God’s character and ways. For He has always given His children the privilege and blessing of working with Him as His instruments to accomplish His purposes.
God works in ways that are consistent with His character and value. He greatly values people, and we should too. If there is a person available and willing to do a job, we shouldn’t devalue that person by rushing to replace them with a machine. God created us to work using the talents and gifts He has given us, both in our vocation and in our personal ministries. As His servants, called to minister, some of the fruit occurs within those serving as we participate with Him in His work. Let’s not rob ourselves nor others of the blessing that comes from walking with God and watching Him work through us.
For quite some time now, robots have been tested to aid in religious activities by either increasing spiritual interest or standing in when clergy are otherwise not available. In 2017, India introduced a robot to perform Hindu rituals. Also in 2017, in honor of the Protestant Reformation’s 500th anniversary, a robot in Germany offered preprogrammed blessings to thousands of people.
In Japan and Beijing, over a million dollars was invested in robotic Buddhist monks in an effort to revive a fading interest in the religion. The robot was programmed with information to disseminate, but with a goal of increasing in sophistication over time, through AI learning.
Not to be left out, robotic Catholic saintlike figurines “counseled” elderly and others who couldn’t get to the priest, using automated responses to their concerns. Roboticist Gabriele Trovato, who designed the 17-foot SanTO (Sanctified Theomorphic Operator), wants to move now to designing devices to support the Muslim religion.
Apart from God’s hand, the slippery slope of artificial cognition knows no bounds. Some have gone so far as to suggest that robots can get to the point of having a free will and thus needing a catechism of their own. I guess they better talk to God about that! Christians can’t even agree on the doctrine of man’s free will. However, you can be sure there will be those who will try to get as close as humanly possible to replicate this belief.
Then there is the legitimate concern of AI becoming an object of worship in and of itself. God has given warning against worshipping that which our own hands have made. Oh! the irony of the created worshiping his own creation. Could this not lead to a modern-day Babel situation where man self-destructs?
Spiritual usage aside, many experts are warning of the dangers of AI. How much more must we be cautious of the traps and temptations in the Christian realm. We should be concerned as to Who? or What? is the source of “truth” as purported by AI. AI would choose to homogenize answers to queries according to what it considers and perpetuates as “truth.”
God works in mysterious ways and His Spirit’s moving cannot be predicted, boxed in, nor controlled. His Word is living and active. Without soul nor spirit, and ignorant of the future, how could a robot ever deliver a personalized, Spirit-filled, and life-changing message? For God has said, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways…For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa. 55:8-9)
It’s truly remarkable the intellect God has put in man. Let’s be responsible to put our minds to good use in considering the ramifications of sliding down the dangerous slope into robotic “ministry.” As powerful and time-saving as AI appears, we can take comfort that it is impotent to do anything outside of the sovereignty of God. One thing we know for sure is that God will always accomplish all that He desires, and He intends to use His children as His instruments in the process. It behooves us to cooperate with Him and not try to run ahead of him.