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Friday, September 29, 2023

Church holds AI-generated service, uses ChatGPT

AUSTIN (KXAN) — From the classroom to the workplace, artificial Intelligence has made its way into several parts of our lives.

But now, it’s in the church as well.

The Violet Crown City Church in north Austin, Texas, hosted a Sunday service entirely created by AI.

Pastor Jay Cooper said he used ChatGPT, whose technology can respond to questions and create a variety of content, such as articles, essays and emails.

“ChatGPT kicked out about a 15-minute service, like a shotgun sermon, an outline,” Cooper said. “It’s very clear that a human element is still needed. I had to fill out the service with additional prompts and add a couple prompts to the sermon to kind of beef it up.”

Cooper said he got the idea after reading more about AI and speaking with members of the congregation who are software developers.

“There’s so many different applications for AI,” he said. “I just had the idea, ‘What would it look like to incorporate this into a worship service?'”

Church attendee Ernest Chambers said he was able to worship during the service, but ultimately, it was still missing a key ingredient for him: feelings.

“I’m not sure that AI can actually express the emotions of love and kindness and empathy,” Chambers said. “I think that we must practice love and express that. Not only feel it, but we must express it.”

What is sacred?

Cooper said the purpose of this was to wrestle with the question “What is sacred?”

“A big question that comes up to me as we let AI lead worship is can a prayer written by artificial intelligence in some way communicate truth? Can you experience God through that?” he asked.

Cooper said if people can see something sacred in the AI sermon, perhaps they could find something sacred in other things as well.

“Perhaps something resonates with them and then it opens their mind to, maybe I’m not looking for the sacred enough in the rest of the world,” Cooper said.

He said while the AI-generated sermon was relevant, it lacked a key component: emotion.

“I think the human touch is critical in life and in ministry,” Cooper said. “I think the messiness of humanity should be present in worship.”

Cooper said the AI-generated service is a one-time thing and there are no plans to do it again.

Be in the conversation

Samantha Shorey, a communication studies assistant professor with the University of Texas at Austin’s Moody College of Communications, was appointed to a study panel focused on exploring the future of AI in society.

Shorey said now is a critical point for communities to decide what the appropriate use of this technology is and which spaces to welcome it into.

“Whether that means welcoming in a technology, welcoming it under these conditions, resisting a technology or refusing to use a technology,” Shorey said. “All of those are decisions that we need to be making as a community and as a culture around AI.”

Shorey said there are certain benefits to using it in certain spaces, like places of worship. She said ChatGPT could be used as a search tool.

“Can you help me find a passage that relates to grief? Or could you help me find a passage that relates to being at a difficult crossroads in your life?” Shorey said.

Her biggest concern is putting too much trust in text generated by a computer. She encouraged thinking critically about AI content.

“Sometimes we just default to think, ‘Oh, the computer must be right,'” Shorey said. “So we need to bring that same sense of curiosity and questioning to a technology like this.”

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