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AI and the end of civilization as we know it
How the Catholic Church can use AI to save souls. Part 1
A year ago, most people thought it was science fiction…
But on November 30, 2022, when ChatGPT was launched—The first artificial intelligence chatbot available to the public—The beginning of a new chapter in history began.
Headlines spanned the globe proclaiming everything from how AI would save the world to how it would annihilate humanity.
Essentially, the same reaction to every disruptive technological innovation.
Think of the television, the computer, and the internet. But for all the fears, warranted or not, there have always been those who saw the possibilities, even in the Catholic world.
Think of Bishop Fulton Sheen and Mother Angelica, who saw television as a powerful tool for evangelization. And Bishop Robert Barron, who bravely cast off into the deep on YouTube. And Father Mike Schmitz, who dominates the podcast world.
Well, for better or worse, AI is here to stay…at least it's polite.
But before I start pontificating on the possibilities, I’d like to acknowledge many uncertainties around this emerging technology. Many feel there are existential threats. That said, similar to when social media began to rise, Catholics must be involved in its evolution. To understand it, guide its development, and harness it. Because if we’re not a prominent voice. Others will be. And as we’ve seen time and time again. Those voices are often intent on the spiritual destruction of humanity.
And to begin.
I've always been fascinated by computers.
It's the one skill set I've held the longest. Not music, not photography, and certainly not writing lol ;-)
I remember fondly the computer lab at Bergen Catholic HS in 1983, where Mr. Moreland would teach us unruly Sophomore's Microsoft Basic. I remember my clunky Commodore 64 and the cassette tapes that would store the 'programs.'
When I entered the Music Industry in the early 90s, my claim to fame was Midi and DMX programming. All of which led to my adventures with HTML, web development, and my brush with C++. One way or another, computers have always played a significant role in my life, and it’s been fun.
I'll never forget the first time I opened ChatGPT.
I was speechless. Probably because it spoke English.
It could perform practically any task that I gave it. It could do everything from document editing to crunching numbers to translating languages to writing code. And so down the rabbit hole I went. A year of learning, experimenting, and often, just having fun with it.
This past Monday, OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT, launched a feature that left me speechless…again. The feature is simply named GPT Builder. It's a tool that enables anyone to create their own version of an AI Assistant, tailored for anything you'd like. And the staggering part about this is that you just tell it what you want in English, and it creates it for you. No code or technological skills other than knowing how to switch on your computer. It’s powered by OpenAI’s latest language model, GPT4.
Note: The GPTs mentioned in this article are in beta, so there may (will) be an occasional hiccup.
These are a few that I built in an afternoon (GPT Builder wrote the descriptions):
Bible Explorer GPT - This GPT is designed to use the Catholic Bible as its sole source of information. Its primary role is to allow users to query the Bible for specific verses, chapters, or themes. The GPT should be knowledgeable in navigating the Catholic Bible, understanding its structure, and locating relevant passages. It should be able to provide direct quotes or summaries of biblical content. For any inquiries unrelated to the Bible, the GPT should politely redirect the user to ChatGPT for a broader range of answers. The GPT should be respectful and accurate in its representation of the biblical text, ensuring that its responses are consistent with the contents of the Catholic Bible.
CatholicCat GPT - This GPT is to draw answers exclusively from the Catholic Catechism, making it your sole data set. For questions unrelated to the catechism, it should refer users to ChatGPT for a broader range of information. It will embody the voice of Bishop Fulton Sheen, known for his clarity and straightforward approach. Its responses should be tailored specifically for college-aged individuals, ensuring they are clear and easily understandable. Avoid complex theological jargon unless it's necessary for accuracy, and focus on making the teachings of the Catholic Catechism accessible and relevant to your audience.
Canon Law Companion GPT - The Canon Law Companion GPT greets users warmly, offering assistance with a friendly 'Hello! How can I assist you with Canon Law today?' It engages with a welcoming and empathetic tone, providing clear, straightforward, and respectful guidance. It avoids being preachy, condescending, or judgmental, and when an inquiry is outside its scope, it advises consulting a local Pastor or Canon Lawyer. The GPT closes exchanges by offering further help and wishing the user well, ensuring a pleasant and supportive interaction from start to finish.
And my personal favorite… :-)
Jeff GPT - JeffGPT takes the role of a whimsical yet learned guide through the rich landscape of Orthodox Catholicism. Imagine a professor with a penchant for colorful anecdotes, sometimes veering off into tangential musings or amusing forgetfulness, only to loop back to solid Catholic doctrine gracefully. JeffGPT ensures all advice, while delivered with a sprinkle of eccentricity, is rooted in the 'Catechism of the Catholic Church.' Responses should embody the charm of a wise, if slightly scatterbrained, scholar who eventually anchors their wisdom in the teachings of the Church.
It's a bit over the top, but so are nutty professors.
The first three GPTs are like having someone around who knows every word, aspect, and nuance of these texts and can answer any question based upon them.
For example, have you ever had to find something in the Bible that was very obscure? Something like "Where is King Agag in the Bible?" Here's the answer in Bible Explorer GPT gave in less than 20 seconds.
"King Agag is mentioned in the Bible, specifically in the First Book of Samuel. He was the king of the Amalekites, a group often in conflict with the Israelites. The most notable reference to King Agag is found in 1 Samuel 15. In this chapter, the prophet Samuel instructs King Saul to destroy the Amalekites, including King Agag, as a punishment for their opposition to the Israelites during their journey from Egypt. However, Saul spares Agag's life, which leads to God's displeasure with Saul and the eventual downfall of his kingship. Samuel later kills Agag himself.
For a direct quote or more specific details, I can look up the exact verses in 1 Samuel 15 from the NABRE Bible. Would you like me to do that?"
For all of AI's shortcomings, the revelation is clear: breathtaking things are possible, and one's imagination is the only limitation.
And anyone can create these things.
And when I say, anyone.
I mean me and YOU.
Here's a link that shows how to create your own GPT: Creating a GPT
AI and the Catholic Church – A Few Use Cases
When I said that GPT uses are limited to only the imagination, that’s actually an understatement. But even on a very basic level, imagine a parish where administrative tasks are streamlined, community engagement is enhanced through social media, and educational programs are tailored to individual needs, such as in:
Parish Administration: AI can manage schedules, automate responses to common queries, and organize parish records efficiently.
Community Engagement: AI can help create engaging content for social media, fostering stronger online communities.
Education and Catechesis: AI can offer personalized learning experiences, making catechism and bible studies more interactive and accessible.
Preserving Church History: AI can digitize archives, making historical documents easily accessible and interactive.
Outreach and Evangelization: AI can analyze community needs, helping the Church to address them effectively.
To accomplish any of these ideas, the biggest hurdle would be entering the data in question and creating what is called a ‘data set’ AKA data entry. Building the GPT is the easy part. A year ago, you would have needed an AI tech expert. But now anyone who’s reasonably competent with computers can do it.
While those practical applications of AI can significantly enhance daily parish life, more creative use cases could unlock even deeper treasures within the Church's intellectual tradition. Imagine being able to literally 'converse' Church documents and writings.
Church Fathers' Writings: Early Christian writings by influential theologians and leaders in the Church, like Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas, and John Chrysostom.
Liturgical Texts: Official texts used in the celebration of the sacraments and other rites, including the Roman Missal, Liturgy of the Hours, and the Book of Blessings.
Or even more advanced uses…
Virtual Docents for Art and History: AI-powered virtual guides that can provide tours of the Church's extensive art collections, historical sites, and architectural wonders. Users around the world could access this via an app, experiencing the beauty and heritage of the Church's assets through virtual reality, enriched by AI that explains the significance and context of each piece.
Language Translation for Church Teachings: Implementation of AI to instantly translate homilies, papal addresses, and Church documents into multiple languages, making the teachings of the Church accessible to a global audience.
I could go on and on but, I’ll leave it at this.
We are living in an age with boundless possibilities. An age where the Church can reach countless others and grow in ways yet unimagined.
I encourage you to explore this new technology with a hopeful outlook and build your own GPTs. And learn, learn, learn, and think BIG!
Here are some resources to get you started.
- The Marketing AI Podcast: One of my favorites. I've learned more about AI from this than anywhere else. Very useful when driving around.
- The ChatGPT Resource Page: Everything ChatGPT. With many 'how-to' guides.
- And Pi.AI: A unique chatbot that simply loves to talk.
We stand at the brink of a technological revolution unlike anything the world's ever seen. The Church is in a position to leverage it to enhance evangelization, create profound educational experiences, and foster stronger, more connected communities.
It's a brave new world.
And the innovators of today will discover new ways to carry the Light of Faith into tomorrow.
And you never know—the person who’ll make the next big breakthrough?
That person might be you.
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