Father A.I.

I’m an advocate of tech (shocking, I know). Yet, I’m wary of how AI has been used. The latest use I’ve run across (even with my better than minimal understanding of the Roman Catholic church) is the former Father Justin (now, “just” Justin).

In her article, The real lesson behind the ‘Father Justin’ AI priest debacle, Delaney Coyne makes some compelling arguments against Father A.I. (and pastor A.I.), while also making unintended arguments validating VR clergy.

While Justin can provide some basic catechesis, he lacks the human qualities—including faith and reason—necessary for real theological insight.

The real lesson behind the ‘Father Justin’ AI priest debacle

I have to agree that, philosophically, an A.I. cannot take the place of a human. I do also wonder if those seeking their A.I. priest are really looking to appease their desire/need for the divine (or transcendence) without the work of human relationship. A.I.’s have taught us about LLMs (Large Language Models) upon which many are based. LLM’s, just like the Google algorithm, don’t teach or reason (or have faith), but they have the veneer.

The veneer is the real danger of A.I. clergy. If it’s human enough, especially digitally, we are tempted to accept it. We are all clamoring for authenticity, while at the same time elevating A.I. and algorithms.

Also, whether Roman Catholic or Church of the Nazarene (or whatever Christian tradition), using an A.I. not built using one’s own traditions would seem to invite theological questions, and even create a situation where a catechized person could be mislead into theological error for their tradition.

“We are confident that our users will not mistake the A.I. for a human being,” Mr. Costello said.

The real lesson behind the ‘Father Justin’ AI priest debacle

While I may have some technological positive thinking, I am kind of appalled with this Pollyanna-type thinking. In fact, in VR it would seem to lend itself even more to that situation.

But Ms. Conrad said it is not so simple: “​​Humans tend to project human qualities onto computer systems when they mirror our behavior in any way…. Even when we know better, we tend to interact with anthropomorphic systems differently than with those that don’t have that kind of interface.” Furthermore, Ms. Conrad said that humans are also likely to grant undue credibility to A.I. thanks to “automation bias, where we are more likely to believe the outputs and decisions of automated systems.” Even if we say we know the limitations of these technologies, we are biased to believe that they are more thoughtful and trustworthy than they really are.

The real lesson behind the ‘Father Justin’ AI priest debacle

A recent report support Ms. Conrad. Mashable recently noted that Sprout Social’s 2024 Influencer Marketing Report shows Gen Z mostly doesn’t care if influencers are actual humans.

Yes, there is something definitely different between an A.I. catechizer and an influencer…as long as one understands that there actually is a difference. Some influencers speak with as much air of authority and certainty as an AI would, and probably more than many (if not most) priests.

While A.I. has great potential, the reality is that for many, it will be a shortcut in the way Google became, with no requirement for thinking.

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