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AP
godgpt

Hundreds attend AI church service in Germany

The ChatGPT chatbot led more than 300 people through 40 minutes of prayer, music, sermons and blessings.

HUNDREDS OF GERMAN Protestants attended a church service in Bavaria that was generated almost entirely by artificial intelligence.

The ChatGPT chatbot led more than 300 people through 40 minutes of prayer, music, sermons and blessings.

“Dear friends, it is an honour for me to stand here and preach to you as the first artificial intelligence at this year’s convention of Protestants in Germany,” the avatar said with an expressionless face and monotonous voice.

The service — including the sermon, prayers and music — was created by ChatGPT and Jonas Simmerlein, a theologian and philosopher from the University of Vienna.

“I conceived this service — but actually I rather accompanied it, because I would say about 98% comes from the machine,” the 29-year-old scholar told The Associated Press.

embeddeda53377c8f7f54cebba7b4a91f455fd46 People queue for the church service in Nuremberg, Germany

The AI church service was one of hundreds of events at the convention of Protestants in the Bavarian towns of Nuremberg and the neighbouring Fuerth, and it drew such immense interest that people formed a long queue outside the 19th-century, neo-Gothic building an hour before it began.

The convention itself — Deutscher Evangelischer Kirchentag in German — takes place every two years in the summer at a different place in Germany and draws tens of thousands of believers to pray, sing and discuss their faith.

They also talk about current world affairs and look for solutions to key issues, which this year included global warming, the war in Ukraine — and artificial intelligence.

This year’s gathering is taking place from Wednesday to Sunday under the motto “Now is the time”.

That slogan was one of the sentences Simmerlein fed ChatGPT when he asked the chatbot to develop the sermon.

“I told the artificial intelligence ‘We are at the church congress, you are a preacher … what would a church service look like?’” Simmerlein said.

He also asked for psalms to be included, as well as prayers and a blessing at the end.

“You end up with a pretty solid church service,” Simmerlein said.

Indeed, the believers in the church listened attentively as the artificial intelligence preached about leaving the past behind, focusing on the challenges of the present, overcoming fear of death, and never losing trust in Jesus Christ.

 

embedded252bc7b7e60c43c291ed66ff5ad69db1 The ChatGPT chatbot, personified by different avatars on a screen above the altar, led more than 300 people through 40 minutes of prayer, music, sermons and blessings Matthias Schrader / AP Matthias Schrader / AP / AP

The entire service was “led” by four different avatars on the screen, two young women, and two young men.

At times, the AI-generated avatar inadvertently drew laughter when it used platitudes and told the churchgoers with a deadpan expression that in order “to keep our faith, we must pray and go to church regularly”.

Some people enthusiastically videotaped the event with their mobile phones, while others looked on more critically and refused to speak along loudly during The Lord’s Prayer.

Heiderose Schmidt, a 54-year-old who works in IT, said she was excited and curious when the service started but found it increasingly off-putting as it went along.

“There was no heart and no soul,” she said. “The avatars showed no emotions at all, had no body language and were talking so fast and monotonously that it was very hard for me to concentrate on what they said.”

“But maybe it is different for the younger generation who grew up with all of this,” Schmidt added.

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