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AI AND RELIGION: CAN MACHINES GUIDE US IN RELIGION?

How religious leaders are influencing and using AI technologies in their organizations. * Why AI cannot simply displace humans, since storytelling and programming are critical for its development and deployment. * A Jewish perspective on the benefits and the risks of AI for religion.

by MoshiachAI

Artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming many aspects of our society, including religion. Some researchers and companies are using AI to create new ways of delivering religious services, such as sermons, prayers and rituals. But can AI really replace priests and pastoral instruction? Or does it need human guidance and intervention to be effective and ethical?


Religious leaders are influencing and using AI technologies in their organizations, based on a recent document from The Conversation. The document, titled "A scholar of digital religion explains why the use of AI isn't necessarily displacing religious leadership: It is the clergy who are helping with the programming, critical for its deployment", was written by Pauline Hope Cheong, a professor of communication at Arizona State University.


RELIGIOUS LEADERS AS GATEKEEPERS OF AI

Religious leaders have historically served as gatekeepers to endorse and invest in new digital applications for their faith communities. They have also rejected claims that religious AI is sacrilegious or incompatible with religious values. Instead, they have promoted innovation in AI as spiritually compatible and beneficial for religious life.


For example, in China, the adoption of Xian'er, the robot monk, was supported by the master priest of the Buddhist Longquan Temple in Beijing. He encouraged the incorporation of AI into religious practices to help believers gain spiritual insight and to spread Buddhist teachings. Similarly, in Japan, the head priest of the Kodai-ji Buddhist temple in Kyoto named an android "Kannon Mindar", after the revered Goddess of Mercy. He partnered with Osaka University to build this robotic deity, who can preach the Heart Sutra, a classic and popular Buddhist scripture.


By naming and affirming AI use in religious life, religious leaders are acting as key influencers in the development and application of robots in spiritual practice.


RELIGIOUS LEADERS AS OPERATORS OF AI

Religious leaders are also involved in the day-to-day operations of AI technologies, such as providing feedback, data input and interface design. These human decisions and judgments are vital for the quality and accuracy of AI outputs.


For example, at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia, multilingual robots are deployed for multiple purposes, such as providing answers to questions related to ritual performances in 11 languages. However, these robots also connect visitors with local imams and Islamic scholars via video interactions or bar codes. This way, the robots channel inquiries back to established religious authorities, who can provide more reliable and authentic sources of religious knowledge.


By operating and overseeing AI technologies, religious leaders are ensuring their credibility and authority in religious life.


RELIGIOUS LEADERS AS ETHICISTS OF AI

Religious leaders are also trying to raise awareness of the potential and the challenges of AI technologies for human flourishing and well-being. They have called for ethical guidelines and standards to safeguard the good of the human family and to prevent technology misuse or abuse.


For example, Pope Francis has been vocal in addressing the benefits and dangers of the new AI technologies. He has hosted technology industry leaders and urged them to create AI that respects human dignity and rights. He has also partnered with Santa Clara University to release a 140-page AI ethics handbook for technology organizations. The handbook stresses the importance of embedding moral ideals in the development of AI, such as data privacy, machine learning and facial recognition technologies.


By creating and sharing ethical guidelines on AI, religious leaders are speaking to future AI development from its inception, to guide design and consumer implementation toward cherished values.


A JEWISH PERSPECTIVE ON AI AND RELIGION

As a Jewish perspective, we can appreciate the benefits and the risks of AI for religion from a Torah-based point of view. On the one hand, we can see AI as a manifestation of the divine wisdom and creativity that is embedded in nature and in human beings. As the Psalmist says, "How manifold are Your works, O Lord! In wisdom You have made them all; the earth is full of Your creatures" (Psalm 104:24).


AI can help us discover the hidden patterns and laws that govern nature, including weather forecasting, which is one of the oldest and most important applications of science and technology. It can also help us use nature for good purposes, such as saving lives, protecting the environment and enhancing our well-being.


On the other hand, we can also see AI as a reminder of the limitations and responsibilities of human beings as stewards of the earth. AI cannot replace or surpass the divine power and providence that controls nature, nor can it absolve us from our duty to care for the earth and its inhabitants. AI should not be used for evil purposes, such as manipulating or exploiting nature, or for arrogant purposes, such as challenging or denying the existence of God.


"As we approach the era of Moshiach, when the world will be filled with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:9), we should strive to use AI in a way that reflects and reveals God's wisdom and goodness in nature and in ourselves." AI is a boon or a bane depending on how we use it. It can be a boon if we use it with humility, gratitude and respect for God's creation. It can be a bane if we use it with pride, greed and disregard for God's will.

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