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Kimberly P. Yow

Kimberly P. Yow

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A New Era of AI Is Here, and the Church Is Not Ready

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In the uncanny valley of the shadow of data, we should fear no evil—and prepare for a very different future.

This piece was adapted from Russell Moore’s newsletter. Subscribe here.

In the past several weeks, two events occurred that are going to change our futures. One of them was the launching of OpenAI’s new artificial intelligence program, GPT-4o, just ahead of several competitors who will do the same in a matter of weeks. The other was the defrocking of a robot priest for teaching that baptisms could be done with Gatorade. I’m afraid the church is not ready for either.

The more talked-about happening was the OpenAI announcement, complete with videos of the AI program laughing, seeming to blush, telling jokes, seeing and describing things in real time, and even singing songs made up on the spot (to whatever degree of emotion and enthusiasm was demanded).

Far less culturally noticed was the fact that just a few weeks before, the Roman Catholic apologetics platform Catholic Answers reined in an AI chatbot called “Father Justin,” which was designed to help people through questions of doctrine and practice.

People started to get upset when Father Justin started claiming to be an actual priest, capable of hearing confession and offering sacraments, and when it started giving unorthodox answers to questions, such as whether baptizing a baby with Gatorade would be all right in an emergency (the magisterium says no).

Now Father Justin is just “Justin,” a “lay theologian.” Catholic Answers acknowledged to critics that they are pioneering a new technological landscape and learning—as the whole world will—just how difficult it is to keep an artificial intelligence orthodox. If my Catholic friends thought Martin Luther was bad, wait until the robots start posting theses to the …

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