• 4 July 2023
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AI takes the pulpit: A church service in Germany features a chatbot preacher

AI takes the pulpit: A church service in Germany features a chatbot preacher

A church service in Germany has made history by featuring a chatbot preacher who delivered a sermon generated by artificial intelligence. The service, which took place at St. Paul’s Church in Fürth, Bavaria, on June 9, 2023, was attended by more than 300 people who came to witness the experimental event.

The chatbot preacher was created by ChatGPT, a powerful language model developed by OpenAI, and Jonas Simmerlein, a theologian and philosopher from the University of Vienna. Simmerlein fed ChatGPT with the motto of the convention of Protestants in Germany, which was “Now is the time”, and asked it to create a sermon, prayers, and music for the service.

The result was a 40-minute service that was almost entirely generated by the machine. The chatbot preacher, personified by an avatar of a bearded black man on a huge screen above the altar, addressed the audience by saying, “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 sermon focused on topics such as leaving the past behind, overcoming fear of death, and never losing faith in Jesus Christ. The chatbot preacher also quoted psalms and scriptures and ended with a blessing. The service also included hymns and songs that were composed by ChatGPT.

The AI-powered church service was one of the hundreds of events at the convention of Protestants in Germany, which takes place every two years in different locations and draws tens of thousands of believers to discuss their faith and current world affairs. The convention this year also addressed issues such as global warming, the war in Ukraine, and artificial intelligence.

The AI church service drew mixed reactions from the attendees. Some found it amusing and intriguing, while others found it disturbing and soulless. Some praised the chatbot preacher for its eloquence and creativity, while others criticized it for its lack of emotion and authenticity.

Jonas Simmerlein, who conceived the service as a way to explore the potential and limits of artificial intelligence in religion, said he was surprised by how well it worked. He said he wanted to provoke a dialogue about the role of technology in spirituality and ethics.

He also said he did not intend to replace human pastors with machines but rather to complement them. He said he hoped that the chatbot preacher could inspire people to reflect on their own beliefs and values.

“I think artificial intelligence can be a tool for us to learn more about ourselves, about our faith, and about our world,” he said. “But it can never replace the human relationship with God.”

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