When we are confronted with the new capabilities of Artificial Intelligence (AI) as we read the headlines in the news, fear is understandable. Looking to the past is always a good way to deal with issues of today, according to Rev. A. Trevor Sutton: “We should have some degree of historical context. How have other technological advancements come onto the scene, transformed things, induced a lot of fear and then suddenly people continue on in a lot of ways and life goes on as usual?”
Dr. Sutton suggests that we should temper our fears when it comes to AI and its use in the church. He reminds us that we are already using AI on a daily basis. It might be a weaker form of AI like a Google search or a question to Alexa. “Maybe we should temper our fear with some other things,” said Rev. Dr. Sutton. “We should (try to) understand what is AI, what are its possibilities, what are the problems that come with it.”
Deep fakes, voice cloning and other scams are created from AI and are used to harm many people, but Rev. Dr. Sutton shows us how looking to the past is helpful. “The introduction of the printing press—that was anxiety inducing on the short term. Lots of people in the church, lots of people in society basically said that was the end of reading and literacy: ‘This is going to completely destroy the credibility of who wrote what. And it’s going to make it possible for plagiarism and falsification.’ And in some sense that stuff happened. But those immediate fears subsided, and then you look at how that fundamentally transformed communication, literacy, society, and the church—it was a big change, a massive change.”
There are many benefits to AI. The most obvious is that it allow workers to be quick and efficient with tasks while giving them more time to focus on other important responsibilities. There are so many different tools that have become recently available and can be helpful to church workers, including:
- Chat GPT can help write text for newsletters and other copy, including job descriptions.
- Dall-e – text-to-image helps build logos and visuals.
- Video AI generation – text-to-video which can help with voiceovers for videos. Many tutorials use a form of this AI generation.
- Whisper or Google translate – A speech recognition model that can transcribe, identify, and translate multiple languages. This could be used and effective for multilingual or multiethnic congregations.
Like any content that is created, there needs to be someone who looks over and edits the content. Sutton encourages the church “to not shy away from this in fear, but also not run headlong into it without thinking theologically or critically about it.”
This article was condensed from the Michigan District’s Thought Leader Podcast episode with guest Rev. Dr. Trevor Sutton, “Artificial Intelligence in the Church.” You can listen to it at michigandistrict.org/podcast.
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