In a previous blog post I explained how the development of artificial intelligence has not reached the level of systems like HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the 1968 movie, HAL is an the artificial intelligence that controls the systems onboard an exploratory space craft. During the mission, HAL makes a mistake and the human crew decide to disconnect it. This leads to all kinds of disaster as the AI decides to fight back to preserve itself and the mission.
These are the kinds of scenarios most people fear when they think about artificial intelligence. Even though we aren’t anywhere near this level of AI yet, the possibility is troubling. “What if we lose control? What if it turns on us? Will we be able to stop it?” These and similar questions have been discussed and debated on YouTube, Facebook, and other social media platforms. I won’t rehash those discussions here. Instead, I would like to reflect on some of the dangers our current AI capabilities hold.
There is the danger of laziness
AI will tempt some to laziness and ‘cheating’. Plagiarism is not a new problem, but with AI it can be taken to new heights. With the help of AI like ChatGPT students, scholars, or pastors can write thousands of pages of content with minimal effort. I preached on AI recently and asked ChatGPT to write the introduction to the message to make this very point. It didn’t sound like me, but it wasn’t half bad. In case you were wondering, it fooled a few people, but I owned up to it immediately.
In a way, using AI to write for us is an advanced version of “copying and pasting” from your favourite website. Only now, with the help of AI, the material can be reordered so that it will appear original. Some have even compared it to ghost writing: employing another person to write on your behalf, and then taking the credit for the product. Only in this case, you won’t have to pay the ghost writer! Either way, the one taking the credit didn’t do the work.
The Bible has quite a lot to say about the sin of laziness. Proverbs warns the sluggard that “poverty will come upon you like a robber” (Prov. 6:9-11). Instead, we are called to be good stewards of the gifts, talents, and time that God has given us. We are to do “honest work with [our] own hands” (Eph. 4:28), such that would honour God (Eph. 6:6-7). Remember, AI is a tool that can assist us in our work, but it should not be used to replace our work. If AI assists us in doing our work more efficiently, this means that we’ve been given the opportunity to do more, not less.
There is the danger of fake church
David de Bruyn recently highlighted this danger here. I raised a similar concern during a recent message on the topic of AI and the church. We already have the problem of “market friendly” churches that focus on appealing to the widest audience, often at the expense of biblical truth. The rise of AI might add to this phenomenon and do away with the biblical preacher too.
Artificial intelligence can already create fake voices and faces, sometimes called “deep fakes.” These digital likenesses of real or imagined people can be disturbingly convincing. Combine this with ChatGPT’s ability to write sermons and you have the potential to create the perfect digital preacher. Just choose the voice you like listening to the most (James Earl Jones perhaps?), pair it with the face you find most appealing, and have it read a sermon written in the style of your favourite preacher… voila!
You may think that this is an overreaction, but this is exactly what a German church scholar did last week. You can read about it here. The artificial preacher, 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 the Associated Press. The service wasn’t flawless and some congregants reported being put off by the artificial manner and tone of the “preacher,” but it is only a matter of time before these hurdles are overcome.
Many Christians are opting for online church and preaching, and this has only been accelerated by the pandemic. Worship is viewed as a passive event and even those who attend in-person services often leave before anyone else has a chance to greet or engage with them. We’ve fallen into the trap of treating our worship like a form of entertainment.
This is not what God has called believers to. The qualifications for elders describe godly men (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9), not robots. They will be imperfect, but they have been given the responsibility of “keeping watch over your souls” (Heb. 13:17). There is more to being a pastor than preaching. The name implies shepherding, which is impossible to do without knowing the sheep.
AI preaching would not only isolate believers from biblical oversight, but also from one another. God’s design for the church is community, which means that we have fellowship with God and with one another (1 John 1:7). There are numerous “one another” commands in the New Testament, all of which would be impossible to fulfil in isolation. The perfect church would not mean the absence of people, but would be filled with imperfect people loving and serving one another to the glory of God.
These are two very real temptations that we have to contend with in our new AI integrated world. A biblical view of work and of church will help guard our hearts against them.