Artificially Intelligent Preachers

Recently, the famous theoretical physicist and cultural icon, Stephen Hawking told the BBC that Artificial Intelligence (AI) could pose a real potential threat to the existence of mankind.

Such a thought has been explored in numerous science fiction works and movies over the years, and generally speaking, the idea of creating AI is looked at in apocalyptic type imagery. But lest you think the idea of AI is merely sci-fi fantasy, you might be startled to learn that it is something that computer scientists and engineers have been seriously exploring for decades in real life. And truth be told, they are on to something.

For example, in 1997 IBM developed a super computer named "Deep Blue" that was taught how to play chess. Deep Blue developed enough skill that it was able to defeat Grand Master and reigning world champion Garry Gasparov in a series of tournament chess matches. Kasparov was champion for 15 years, and is generally considered the greatest chess player to ever live. Deep Blue's victory over Kasparov was no small accomplishment.

More recently, companies like Google have been heavily involved in AI research and development. A lot of the controversial "data mining" they are engaged in is used towards creating brains for super computers, and, is in part, one of the many reasons Google is able to accurately "guess" on-the-fly what you are likely searching for when you start typing your search query into Google.com.

While sci-fi fantasy largely looks at the emergence of AI as something potentially negative, to date, the contributions behind the research and development of AI has been extremely positive. Largely, AI research and development has been a force for good. Keeping this in mind then, perhaps our sci-fi fantasy future casting needs to look at AI as less of a threat, and more as a positive contribution. So, instead of Skynet/Terminator/Matrix type images, we need to start thinking about AI in terms of Star Wars droids like C3PO and R2D2.

If AI yields us friendly benevolent computers capable of good, I would like to propose a simple question: In the future, how might the church leverage AI for the purpose of the gospel?

Could we create artificially intelligent theologians, preachers, and even praise and worship leaders?

Can you imagine a robot engaged in complicated Biblical exegesis, who is able to engage in original thought, and in one nano-second is able to yield fresh theological insight from research it conducts in original languages, studying all available Biblical manuscripts, and making use of all scholarly material available on every subject matter? Such a machine could possibly produce new "authoritative" translations of the Bible, available in all languages across the globe, and give us answers to theological problems that have long plagued scholars.

Can you imagine a robot evangelist, who could simul-cast his messages over the internet into churches around the world, teaching us the gospel of Jesus Christ, and doing so in constantly fresh and culturally relevant ways? Not only that, the robot evangelist would be able to develop the most efficient and strategic forms of outreach, and to think of new and clever ways to reach the lost.

Can you imagine a robot praise and worship leader (or band!), who has a knowledge of every hymn and song every written, and is able to compose new songs unto the Lord, and to lead a congregation into the deepest worship experience possible?

Artificial intelligence might not only change the world, but it might also change the way we do church.

...Or, it may just produce an army of Terminators who want to kill everybody in the world, just like scientists like Stephen Hawking warned us about.

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