Artificial Intelligence & The Church


(Carson Weitnauer) #1

Hi friends, I read with interest this article in the New York Times:

The key point, reflected in the first two paragraphs, is this:

There are basically three big questions about artificial intelligence and its impact on the economy: What can it do? Where is it headed? And how fast will it spread?

Three new reports combine to suggest these answers: It can probably do less right now than you think. But it will eventually do more than you probably think, in more places than you probably think, and will probably evolve faster than powerful technologies have in the past.

In terms of social impact, I found this line particularly interesting:

The McKinsey Global Institute published a report on Wednesday about automation and jobs, sketching out different paths the technology might take and its effect on workers, by job category in several countries. One finding: Up to one third of the American work force will have to switch to new occupations by 2030, in about a dozen years.

That is incredible! Transitioning one third of the American work force in twelve years would be a massive shift.

For me, this will very much raise the question of how connected and prepared our churches are to support members who need to make these wrenching journeys. Like the story of Joseph, it is wise to build up reserve funds so that people are cared for in times of famine. Understandably, there will also be incredible demand (and a huge voting bloc) for the government to respond to this situation. In addition to that response, I think this is an opportunity for the church to demonstrate wise, sacrificial leadership for the good of the community.

Here are the other websites mentioned in the article:

AI Index:

Future of Work (McKinsey):

National Bureau of Economic Research. “Artificial Intelligence and the Modern Productivity Paradox: A Clash of Expectations and Statistics”

(SeanO) #2

@CarsonWeitnauer Very complex question. I think it would be neat if the Church had free programming classes for community members who want to learn or classes in technology that will become helpful for getting jobs. It would give the Church a great chance to tie science / faith back together if it had excellent classes teaching the community to code and become contributors to the technological age.

(Melvin Greene) #3

I definitely agree @CarsonWeitnauer. Jesus told us that we need to look after the poor, widowed, and disenfranchised. In fact, it was a command. The church could be a tremendous blessing in the community that we serve. I think about what might have been if the church, and not the government, would have stepped up to help those that needed it during the Great Depression. We may not have had the immense welfare state that we have now. It’s quite evident to me that the government is not the entity to help the poor.

@Sean_Oesch, I think you have the right idea. I bet most churches are mainly empty during the week. Imagine if the church could muster up some volunteers, maybe some retired professionals who would be willing to work with displaced workers to teach them new marketable skills, using the church buildings, we could really show what the love of Christ is all about.

(Kevin Abshire) #4

That is a staggering statistic @CarsonWeitnauer for 2030 if it comes true. @Sean_Oesch and @Melvin_Greene those are great ideas for the church to step out and lead during a time of transition for many.

Can you see any dangers in incorporating AI directly in the church? for example: What if a church used AI to determine the worship songs each week based on the congregations participation from prior weeks? How would you feel going through a Bible study created by Artificial Intelligence? Would you be alright with your pastor developing his sermons on an algorithm that chooses words with the highest percentage of impact based on today’s culture?

I hope I’m not swimming in the deep end here but I’m curious to hear your thoughts.


(SeanO) #5

@Kevin_Abshire Good questions.

An AI program that determined words with high impact in our culture would be called an ‘expert system’. An actual cultural expert would need to be involved in determining what parameters the system used to find high impact words (through statistical analysis of twitter feeds, for example).

I think there are two categories here:

  1. Using AI to make the Church more efficient / informed in its mission
  2. Replacing teachers / councilors with AI

(1) seems fine to me. (2) would be impinging on an area where we are removing the leading of God’s Spirit from the process (whenever (2) is even technologically feasible). I wonder, where is that line? Where do we need to ensure humans are the active agents so that God’s Spirit can work through them?

On another level, I am not sure (2) will be possible in the near future, if at all. Perhaps by analyzing a database of thousands of past sermons, running an analysis on vocabulary familiar to the audience and with some advancements in Natural Language Processing it could be done without full blown AI. Hard to say.

(Jolene Laughlin) #6

As a member of the trucking industry, it has been mind-boggling to me to see that “automated vehicles” are considered the future of commercial transportation. And they are already running pilot tests on driverless semi trucks, which they plan on “platooning,” meaning that they will run sort of like a train. A row of trucks lined up within a couple feet of each other. A human driver will still need to ride in the truck/trucks (possibly only the lead truck) in case of an emergency situation, but they will not truly be in control of the vehicle. I am very skeptical that this will work well unless/until all vehicles are automated, but if/when it does happen, truck drivers alone could account for a huge percentage of people forced out of their careers.

But we do see this happening all over. Our bank has closed down their teller windows and one person stands at the customer service center and directs people with “routine transactions” to use ATMs. Fast food restaurants are replacing people at the counter with kiosks and employees simply prepare and serve the food. Airports here in the US are also full of kiosks (which is nice because it goes faster, but still…what will the world be like when everything is done by robots and automated systems? And we think we have a lack of community and personal contact now. I can’t imagine how it will be for future generations.

Personally, I think that keeping automation out of the church (except in cases like point #1 that @Sean_Oesch makes) will be an important step in helping people stay connected and emotionally healthy.

(Neil Weaver) #7

Hey Jolene, I am in the freight industry as well, just saw this post looking for AI topics. There are some seriously disruptive technologies out there and they are getting better over time.

I like to imagine having the drivers drive the trucks remotely, with VR goggles. Then you could have them all go to one building and drive all over the country. Or why not “drive from home”. We would need a bunch of safety controls around these remotely piloted vehicles but I think it may combine the best of both worlds. Swapping drivers sure would be easy.

Unrelated but valuable - MIT tech review reflection on AI and Ethics: