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The Limitations of AI in the Religious Sector: A Dilemma for Places of Worship

2 Mins read

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The Rise of AI and Its Impact on Jobs

The recent advancements in AI, including ChatGPT and other artificial intelligence tools, have stirred both excitement and anxiety worldwide. While these breakthrough technologies open up new possibilities, there are concerns about potential job displacement. Various industries face the risk of automation, including white-collar jobs like lawyers, economists, writers, and administrative staff, in addition to traditional blue-collar roles. However, one domain where humans are likely to excel over AI is religion.

AI’s Potential in Religion

The integration of AI into religious practices is not entirely unprecedented. The Kodai-Ji Buddhist temple in Kyoto features the Mindar humanoid robot, designed to deliver 25-minute sermons on Buddhist philosophy accompanied by a captivating light and sound show. However, a research study raises questions about the efficacy of using AI in religious settings, especially when compared to human clergy members.

Research Study: Humans vs. AI in Religion

A study conducted at the Kodai-Ji temple and a Taoist temple in Singapore examined participants’ responses to sermons delivered by humanoid robots versus human priests. Surprisingly, the results indicated that individuals perceived the robot-delivered sermons as less credible and were less inclined to make generous donations compared to those who heard sermons from human clergy. A subsequent study involving Christian participants in the United States further suggested that AI-generated sermons were deemed less credible due to the perceived limitations of AI’s capacity to think and feel like humans.

AI’s Compatibility with Different Religions

The notion that AI may find more acceptance in Buddhism due to its empirical nature was challenged by the study’s findings. Buddhism, Christianity, and Taoism all displayed similar patterns of skepticism towards AI in religious roles. While the study didn’t explore Hinduism and Islam explicitly, the lead researcher, Joshua Conrad Jackson, suggested that the results might be mirrored in those religions as well.

Implications for Places of Worship

One of the primary motivations for introducing AI preachers like Mindar was to attract younger individuals to religious institutions, as younger adults in many countries are less likely to identify with any religious group. However, the study suggests that exposure to robot priests might actually reduce religious commitment among those who consider themselves religious. This presents a dilemma for places of worship: whether to embrace AI and robots to engage the younger generation, but with limitations while risking alienating their existing congregants.

The Value of Human Religious Elites

Religious leaders, such as priests, preachers, and shamans, serve as cultural models who embody and legitimize the teachings of their faith. They play a vital role in eliciting high levels of commitment from their followers. However, the study indicates that robots and AI may not possess the same effectiveness in this regard. This highlights the unique value of human religious elites and the limitations of AI in fully replacing them in religious settings.


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