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Reflection: How AI Threatens Religion with Professor John Pittard, Yale Divinity School

As artificial intelligence (AI) increasingly permeates our daily lives, John Pittard, Associate Professor of Philosophy of Religion at Yale Divinity School, considers its potential impact on religion and spirituality in a recent podcast. Pittard highlights both the threats and opportunities AI presents to religious communities.

One significant concern raised by Professor Pittard is the potential erosion of mankind’s dependence on one another. Central to many faith traditions is the principle of serving and supporting one’s neighbors. However, with the advent of AI-driven solutions for counseling1, companionship2, spiritual guidance3, and even sermon delivery4, there is a risk that we may become less reliant on human interaction, and diminish the richness of communal bonds rooted in mutual responsibility. As we navigate advancements in AI technology, it is crucial to consider the essence of human connection and empathy that lies at the heart of religious teachings.

Illustrating this intersection between technology and spirituality, Pittard is asked about Mindar, a robotic priest deployed in a Buddhist temple in Japan5. While current iterations of such AI entities may appear rudimentary, the potential for advancement raises profound questions about the nature of religious leadership and worship. In virtual church settings, the line between human and AI-generated avatars could blur, challenging traditional notions of authenticity.

Addressing the regulatory challenges surrounding AI, Pittard underscores two key obstacles: enforceability and fear. Many question whether it will be possible to enforce regulation, given the global nature of AI development. Without enforceable regulation, there is a real fear of bad or irresponsible actors winning an arms race, and no one wants to be on the losing side of an arms race.

Pittard encourages religious leaders and communities to realize they have a place at the table of technological discourse and actively engage in shaping the future of AI with a sense of urgency and purpose. We can leverage our moral authority to advocate for responsible AI development that aligns with our core values.

How can we harness the transformative potential of AI while preserving the sanctity of human connection within religious communities? What role can individuals play in fostering dialogue and collaboration between technological innovators and religious institutions? By grappling with these questions, we can create a future where AI enhances, rather than diminishes, the virtues and values of religious traditions around the world.

Robert Rex

Robert Rex is the Technology Tools Supervisor at the Online Teaching Center of the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah where he works on global onboarding of technology tools, builds systems to evaluate performance, and leads research & development. He is also the president of student success at the Charlie Life and Leadership Academy, a 501c(3) non-profit committed to providing world-class leadership education to young adults. Robert graduated from Brigham Young University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics.

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