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AI Worship? - example and discussion

Could Artificial Intelligence lead worship?
As part of our Kairos Wednesdays on Zoom (the weekly gathering of The Kairos Movement) the topic of AI and church was discussed at our meeting on 17th January. It was a follow-on from a previous conversation that had taken place at our Nomad Discussion group, where the episode titled “ChatGPT – In AI We Trust? (N305)” from the Nomad Podcast was the focus of the month. It’s not necessary to have listened to that podcast episode to understand or engage with the content below, but it might be a helpful introduction if you don’t already know much about AI, the possibilities, or the ethical concerns.

Our session on Wednesday 17th January was facilitated by Elliot Crippen (Digital Enabler for Yorkshire North & East Methodist District, member of the Kairos Movement, and runs a digital fresh expressions project that is partnered with Kairos). Elliot directed Chat GPT to create some opening devotions for the meeting, as a practical example of what AI worship could look like, and enabled us to base our discussions and comments on something tangible. The recording of these opening devotions is below along with a summary of the following discussion that took place (the summary was generated by AI in Zoom, and so not entirely accurate in places!) 

Recording of our opening devotions created by AI

There are a few minutes of introduction and context provided by Elliot, explaining the theme and what will happen, followed by 10 mins of worship compromising opening prayer, reading, reflection and blessing all by AI.

Meeting summary for Kairos Wednesday Zoom (01/17/2024)

If you’d prefer, you can read the full summary as provided by Zoom here: download summary (pdf)
The text is copied below.

Quick recap           
Elliot shared his thoughts on life, gratitude, and spiritual growth, referencing the story of Nicodemus from the Bible and encouraging individuals to embrace new truths and step beyond their comfort zones. The team discussed the use of AI in generating content, its implications, and the limitations of AI voices. The team also discussed their experiences with AI-generated content, the ethical aspects of AI-generated content, the potential use of AI in religious worship, and the legal and ethical considerations surrounding AI-generated content. The team also discussed their experiences and preferences in using various resources for inspiration and learning, the potential uses of AI, and the potential impacts of AI on creativity.

Full Summary

Embracing New Truths: A Spiritual Journey
Elliot shared their screen and delivered a thoughtful and emotional speech about life, gratitude, and spiritual growth. They referenced the story of Nicodemus from the Bible, emphasizing the importance of embracing new truths and stepping beyond one’s comfort zone. They also discussed the concept of deconstruction in faith, encouraging individuals to ask hard questions and be willing to let go of certainties. Elliot concluded their speech with a prayer, inviting attendees to embrace their individual spiritual journeys with open hearts and minds.

AI Content Creation: Implications and Limitations
The team discussed the use of AI in generating content and its implications. Liane raised questions about the nature of art and whether it is meant to be appreciated or consumed. David highlighted the importance of delivery and suggested that the monotone, fast-paced nature of the generated content resulted in a loss of content. Andy appreciated the chosen passage but felt the content lacked depth and was superficial. Elliot clarified that the video component was created through an external website due to AI’s inability to generate videos. Fran noted that while the content wasn’t factually incorrect, it lacked depth and variety. The team also discussed the limitations of AI voices in sounding human and the challenge of adjusting AI’s delivery style for different contexts.

AI-Generated Content and Ethics: A Team Discussion
The team discussed their experiences with artificial intelligence (AI), particularly in generating abstract concepts. Elliot noted that AI struggled with abstract ideas but excelled at practical depictions, and the role of prompts and asking good questions was emphasized. Fran highlighted the need to understand the nuances of AI usage and the skill required to compose what you want through AI. The ethical aspects of AI-generated content were also discussed, with Fran noting that some people believe AI-generated content lacks authenticity. The conversation also touched on the use of AI in generating images and the role of prompts in obtaining effective results. Finally, the team discussed Gail’s retirement, but no additional details were provided.

AI-Generated Content Legal, Ethical, and Creative Discussions
The team discussed the legal and ethical considerations surrounding AI-generated content. Elliot clarified that the person who provides the prompt technically owns the content, but the legal status of AI-generated work is still under debate. They also discussed the use of copyrighted images and the potential ethical concerns of AI-generated images. Elliot mentioned their AI’s ability to replicate other artists’ styles. Peter asked about the process of creating AI voices, to which Elliot responded that the paid version of Chat Gpt now offers integrated voices, but only on mobile devices. The team also explored potential uses of AI in religious worship, noting its potential to stimulate new ways of expressing ideas and prayers. Andy suggested a use case where it could suggest craft ideas based on available materials, comparing it to how Pinterest works.

Resources and AI in Inspiration and Learning
The team discussed their experiences and preferences in using various resources for inspiration and learning. They emphasized the importance of personal conviction and trust in the source of information. Andy shared their preference for online resources for inspiration, citing lack of access to books of prayers. The limitations of AI-generated content were also discussed, particularly its lack of emotional engagement and clear motivation for action. The potential of AI to convey emotions in the future was also considered. The team also discussed the capabilities of AI in summarizing and analyzing information, with David, Elliot, and Andy sharing their experiences. However, there were concerns raised about the privacy and security of uploading personal documents for analysis. The team concluded that the availability and functionality of AI depend on the user’s ability to pay, as highlighted by Andy.

AI in Creative Tasks: Thoughts and Concerns
Andy, Anne, Elliot, David, and Colin discussed their thoughts and concerns regarding the use of AI for creative tasks such as prayer and preaching. Anne expressed discomfort with the idea of worshiping and praying through something not real, while Andy shared their experience of using AI to write their sermon. David and Colin discussed the potential benefits and challenges of using AI, including concerns about outsourcing creativity. The discussion concluded without a clear resolution on whether to continue using AI for these tasks.

AI Data Processing and Creative Applications
Elliot, Peter, Andy, and Liane discussed the potential uses of AI, particularly in processing large amounts of data and analyzing medical documents. Andy shared their personal experience of using AI in their research and highlighted the challenges if the system doesn’t know what’s wrong. They also discussed using AI in creative tasks such as photography. Liane commented on the idea of educating AI. The group highlighted the importance of personal interpretation when viewing images, rather than relying solely on what technology suggests. There was also mention of a book they had written, which might have been related to this topic.

AI’s Impact on Personal Thought and Societal Bias
Andy initiated a conversation about the importance of personal experience and interpretation, using a picture of a person in a hoodie as an example. They highlighted the potential risk of over-reliance on external resources like the internet, which might lead to a loss of personal thought and feeling. This concern was echoed by other participants, including Abigail, Liane, and Elliot, who expressed worries about the potential for AI to make humans overly dependent and less mentally capable. The discussion also revolved around the development and potential societal impact of an AI system. Elliot likened the AI to a child in its current stage, suggesting it would become more sophisticated as it developed. Liane raised concerns about potential biases in the data fed into the AI, which Elliot confirmed as a significant concern. They agreed on the importance of diverse contributions to the AI system to avoid perpetuating biases.

Integrating AI in Worship: Songbook and Knowledge Base Challenges
Andy expressed concerns about the limited song repertoire of the musicians in their word cafe worship, which was hindering spontaneity and responsiveness. They proposed the development of a songbook to better reflect evolving themes of worship. Charlie, an IT expert, agreed and suggested the potential of AI to enhance their worship experience. Graham, who joined late, mentioned a Christian speaker, Eve Pool, who has been exploring the role of AI in creativity and uniqueness. They highlighted the challenges of keeping up with the growing knowledge base and advocated for intelligent laziness. Elliot suggested sharing some content at the beginning of the meeting for open discussion.

Authenticity vs AI in Social Media Marketing
Elliot and Colin discussed social media trends and marketing, highlighting a growing emphasis on authenticity and a pushback against AI-generated content. Elliot suggested that this trend might encourage people to create more authentic, time-intensive content. Colin compared this to Microsoft Powerpoint’s smart art feature, arguing that it might enhance creativity by focusing users on content rather than design. Both agreed on the need to learn more about the potential impacts of AI on creativity, particularly in relation to people in creative industries.

AI-generated content may be inaccurate or misleading. Always check for accuracy.

The future of online church?

This conversation on AI is part of a bigger picture around technology and church – what does the future hold?

Elliot, who facilitated our above Wednesday gathering on AI, has also spent time considering the future of “online church”. Read his recent article here, which includes mention of The Kairos Movement as an example of an online / hybrid church.
The future of online church: my vision for a hybrid Methodism

Additional resources or conversations around AI and church

Provided by The Connexion:

AI, Everywhere, All At Once: Understanding the theology of artificial intelligence
Keynote talk at the “Exploring Digital” online conference by James Poulter on Saturday 30th September 2023
Watch the full conference on YouTube here

Blog articles by Premier Digital:
Can AI bring out the best of us?
Pete Philips – Jan 2022
Read the article here
How ethical is AI?
Pete Philips – Jan 2022
Read the article here

 

If you want to contribute to this conversation, or explore AI and church more, feel free to connect with The Kairos Movement, or directly with Elliot at digital@yorkshirenemethodist.org