Global church communicators tackle AI in assessing their work

(AI image by Intelligence image by Creative Commons

Communicators who worked for the World Council of Churches Assembly in 2022 met online recently and discussed the impact of artificial intelligence on their work, asserting that if they work hard, AI's obstacles can be countered.

Nearly 50 of 140 communicators who worked together at the WCC's 11th Assembly in Karlsruhe, Germany, in 2022 held an online reunion on April 10, reflecting and also looking forward to how artificial intelligence is affecting their work and will do so in the future.

The WCC's Assembly is the meeting of the 500 million-strong council held around every seven years drawing thousands of participants. 

Sara Speicher, deputy general secretary of the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC) and also a WCC communications officer, spoke on issues of digital justice and artificial intelligence.

"AI is a tool that can be used—but like all tools, we need to use it correctly," said Speicher.

She offered four guidelines while advising each organization develop its own specific guidelines:

"Be respectful, be transparent, be truthful, and be wise," she said.

Speicher said that together, WACC and the WCC, along with the Association of Protestant Churches in Germany (EMW) will soon release a self-directed course.

It is entitled "Just Digital: Big Issues in Small Bytes," which goes through key issues related to digital justice, including artificial intelligence.

Sean Hawkey, a photojournalist from the UK and Ireland who worked as a business news photographer, shared a written presentation on AI and was less positive about its impact.

"With algorithms, despite there being many more images, we are getting fed what the algorithm knows we like, and we see a narrower view of the world," he noted.

"So, we are at a unique new point in history, where I believe all this context is important, where photojournalism is devalued, where low-quality citizen journalism is abundant, where news values and editorial standards are losing to algorithms. And we in a political environment where the truth doesn't matter as much as it used to."

Albin Hillert, from Sweden, who served on the features photography team during the assembly, brought up the concern of accountability related to AI and images.

(Photo: Wikipedia)IBM's Watson artificial intelligence computer

"If we lose the connection between what we express visually, what we share visually, with the actual event, there's a risk we go astray," he said.

Felix M. Simon wrote in the Colombia Journalism Review, on Feb. 6, 2024, "Despite growing interest, the effects of AI on the news industry and our information environment — the public arena — remain poorly understood.

"Insufficient attention has also been paid to the implications of the news industry's dependence on technology companies for AI."

He wrote, "It is fair to say there is no consensus about what constitutes AI, nor is there a generally accepted definition of AI. There is, however, agreement around what AI is not: namely, a conscious, general intelligence that understands and works across domains."

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