AI goes to church in South Korea, sparks controversy – The Straits Times

Artificial intelligence (AI) is going to church, and not everyone is happy about it.
Some start-ups in South Korea have developed AI-backed Bible reading and prayer service apps, according to the South Korean media.
They include Meadow, a ChatGPT-based Bible chatbot service developed by South Korean company Awake.
Meadow suggests Bible verses and customises prayers for users based on the problems they discuss with the chatbot.
It has become popular among young Protestants in their 20s and 30s.
Meadow has also generated interest among some churches, according to an official from the start-up.
But not everyone is ready to embrace the technology.
One concern relates to the potential for chatbots powered by generative AI to present wrong information as truth. Such chatbots, which include ChatGPT, generate new text and code based on the data they are trained on.
In one instance, a professor at Chongshin University in Seoul said that he had found “heretical beliefs in 10 sermons” written by ChatGPT.
Others argue that using AI lacks spiritual fulfilment, with some saying it makes the experience soulless.
There are also worries that the technology could replace pastors altogether, even though some pastors have started to use AI.
There are now calls for churches to establish guidelines for the use of AI in religion.
According to a poll conducted by market research firm Hankook Research in December 2022, Protestant Christians were the largest religious group in South Korea, accounting for 20 per cent of respondents.
Buddhists made up 17 per cent of respondents, Roman Catholics 11, and 2 per cent followed other religions.
The remaining 50 per cent of those polled claimed no religious affiliation.
In a separate survey of 650 Protestant ministers in South Korea, 20 per cent said they had used ChatGPT to create sermons, according to the poll by the Ministry Data Institute. Some 60 per cent said ChatGPT was useful for generating ideas for sermons.
South Korea is not the only country experimenting with AI in church.
In June 2023, about 300 people attended a 40-minute AI-generated church service held in the German city of Furth.
Some church members refused to speak along when the digital avatar read out prayers, according to reports. But a pastor attending the service was impressed, saying he had “imagined it to be worse” than it was, according to a report on British news website The Independent.
AI has also made an appearance in other religions.
HadithGPT, for example, uses hadiths – narrations of the sayings and life of Prophet Muhammad – to answer questions about Islam.
The chatbot’s responses come with a disclaimer that its answers are AI-generated and may not be accurate.
Some religious leaders say that turning to AI for spirituality may not be a completely novel phenomenon, because people have long sought answers on the Internet.
It is the latest iteration of “how people might consider what opinion to follow”, Mr Jihad Turk, the founding president of Bayan Islamic Graduate School in Chicago, told British newspaper The Guardian in an April interview.
Join ST’s Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.
Read 3 articles and stand to win rewards
Spin the wheel now
MCI (P) 076/10/2022, MCI (P) 077/10/2022. Published by SPH Media Limited, Co. Regn. No. 202120748H. Copyright © 2023 SPH Media Limited. All rights reserved.