Chatbots and audio bibles powered by artificial intelligence have entered the pews of and pulpits churches in South Korea where online church services using AI have become increasingly popular.
And while AI chatbots such as ChatGPT are popular with young Korean Christians, some people question the use of "soulless technology" in conducting their worship, MetaNews, reported back on September 19.
South Korean media have reported that apps such as Meadow, a ChatGPT-based Bible chatbot service developed by Korean AI startup Awake Corp., pointing to what Christians should read, how to pray, and how to conduct church services when prompted to do so.
Meadow uses Open AI's ChatGPT technology and has its own extensive theological database. It responds to spiritual inquiries and offers bible verses, interpretations, and prayers.
According to TS2 SPACE the use of AI has gained popularity among Christians worldwide, including users living in Muslim countries such as Pakistan, as well as in the U.S., and other western nations.
Pastors have also identified its value as a tool to assist in sermon preparation.
Around 20 percent of Protestant ministers in South Korea have adopted ChatGPT for the services with 60 percent finding it beneficial for generating sermon ideas says TS2 SPACE, which provides telecommunications services by using the global satellite constellations says its website.
Christians in South Korea account for about 28 percent of the 52 million people, with Protestants making up around two-thirds of them.
The controversy centers onstartups developing generative artificial intelligence-backed bible study and prayer service apps, to add to those that are already used by many Christians in Korea the Korea Economic Daily reported.
Awake Corp., the developer of ChatGPT-based bible chatbot service Meadow, recently received an offer from a local church to sell its service, reported the Korean newspaper citing AI startup sector sources.
Meadow has drawn significant interest from Korean Christian churches and it secured 50,000 users within three days of its launch, said KED.
Many churches and Christian groups have contacted Awake seeking information on using the app as a missionary tool, an official from the startup said.
Meadow generates bible verses and creates prayers when its users share their problems with the chatbot and search for solutions from it.
YOUNG PROTESTANT CHRISTIANS
It is popular, especially among younger-generation Protestant Christians in their 20s and 30s according to KED.
Biblely was developed by Korean startup Voiselah, and is also widely used by 120 non-Catholic partner churches.
Bibely is an audio bible platform that creates audio bibles recorded with different church pastors, using generative AI technology trained with each church pastor's voice, reports TS2 SPACE.
Along with the convenience and efficiency of the AI applications in religious practices, there are also concerns about the limitations of AI in providing genuine spiritual experiences.
Some pastors have requested completely AI-generated sermons, but Kim Min-joon, the CEO of Awake Corp, declined, emphasizing that technology cannot replace the soulfulness of spirituality TS2 SPACE reported.
Furthermore, pastors and religious leaders in South Korea express caution and acknowledge that sermon creation and preaching need human interaction and the human touch that AI cannot replicate.
"We faced strong resistance from churches initially with their suspicion that we are trying to replace God and pastors," said Kim Min-joon, Awake's chief executive in The Financial Times on Oct. 23.
"But pastors began to appreciate our service as it helps them save time in preparing for sermons, and find more time to take care of lonely, troubled followers."
In a survey of 650 Protestant ministers in South Korea, 20 percent 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,
The Straits Times reported 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.
In June, Pope Francis released a handbook on the ethics of artificial intelligence through the Vatican. He outlined a set of principles that technology companies such as ChatGPT creator OpenAI, should follow as they develop and deploy AI programs.