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Hundreds attend ‘soulless’ AI-generated church service

ChatGPT sermon told attendees to not fear death

Anthony Cuthbertson
Tuesday 13 June 2023 13:08 BST
German Church Uses ChatGPT for AI-Generated Sermon

Hundreds of people have attended an AI-generated church service in Germany, involving virtual avatars delivering sermons written by ChatGPT.

The 40-minute service at Saint Paul’s church in Fürth received mixed reactions from the Protestant congregation, the Associated Press reported, with the avatars occasionally causing unintentional laughter.

Some church members even refused to speak along when the digital avatar read out the Lord’s Prayer.

“There was no heart and no soul,” said Heiderose Schmidt, a 54-year-old IT worker who attended the service.

“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.”

Lutheran pastor Marc Jansen was more impressed by the artificial intelligence, saying he had “imagined it to be worse” than it was.

“I was positively surprised how well it worked,” he said. “Also, the language of the AI worked well, even though it was still a bit bumpy at times.”

The AI began the service by stating: “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.”

It went on to talk about leaving the past behind and never losing trust in Jesus, while also urging the congregation to overcome their fear of death.

More than 300 people attended the service, which was organised by 29-year-old theologian Jonas Simmerlein from the University of Vienna.

Mr Simmerlein instructed ChatGPT to include psalms, prayers and a blessing, saying the experiment was designed to show how religious leaders could use AI to help them with their work.

“Artificial intelligence will increasingly take over our lives, in all its facets. And that’s why it’s useful to learn to deal with it,” he said, adding that AI will not be able to replace the role pastors serve in interacting with the local community.

“The pastor is in the congregation, she lives with them, she buries the people, she knows them from the beginning. Artificial intelligence cannot do that. It does not know the congregation.”

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