Hundreds attended a Protestant church service Friday in Germany generated almost entirely by artificial intelligence, with a sermon presented by the AI chatbot ChatGPT.
The chatbot, which presented as a Black man with a beard above the altar of St. Paul’s Church in Fürth, Bavaria, told the packed congregation not to fear death, according to the Associated Press.
“Dear friends, it is an honor for me to stand here and preach to you as the first artificial intelligence at this year’s convention of Protestants in Germany,” the AI avatar said.
The service, which was attended by more than 300 people, lasted 40 minutes and featured prayers and music in addition to the sermon. University of Vienna theologian and philosopher Jonas Simmerlein, 29, used ChatGPT to craft the event, the AP reported.
“I conceived this service — but actually I rather accompanied it, because I would say about 98% comes from the machine,” Simmerlein told the AP.
The service was part of Deutscher Evangelischer Kirchentag, a popular biennial event that occurs in Nuremburg and nearby Fürth and attracts tens of thousands of Christians. Issues addressed at the event this year, which lasts Wednesday to Sunday, include climate change, the war in Ukraine and AI.
“Now is the time” is the theme of this year’s gathering, which Simmerlein noted was one of the phrases he gave ChatGPT when he asked the chatbot to write the sermon.
“I told the artificial intelligence ‘We are at the church congress, you are a preacher … what would a church service look like?’” said Simmerlein, who also requested the chatbot implement psalms, prayers and a concluding blessing in the sermon.
Simmerlein said ChatGPT ended up providing “a pretty solid church service.”
The chatbot’s sermon reportedly focused on leaving the past behind, paying attention to the present, not being afraid of death and maintaining faith in Jesus Christ.
Four different AI avatars took turns leading the service and reportedly drew laughter at times for their monotonous, deadpan delivery.
“There was no heart and no soul,” Heiderose Schmidt, 54, told the AP of 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,” she added.
Simmerlein noted that no human interaction was able to take place between the chatbot and the congregation.
“The pastor is in the congregation, she lives with them, she buries the people, she knows them from the beginning,” Simmerlein said. “Artificial intelligence cannot do that. It does not know the congregation.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.