An avatar created by ChatGPT's AI 'celebrates' a Protestant service

An avatar created by ChatGPT's AI 'celebrates' a Protestant service and asks parishioners not to fear death

The artificial intelligence 'chatbot' ChatGPT, personified by an avatar of a man on a giant screen above the altar, offered a sermon last Friday at a Lutheran church in Germany.

"Dear friends, it is an honor for me to be here and preach to you as the first artificial intelligence at this year's Protestant convention in Germany," the expressionless-faced, monotone-voiced avatar told more than 300 worshippers gathered at the St. Paul's church in the Bavarian city of Fürth.

During the 40-minute religious service, the 'chatbot 'asked believers to get up from the pews and praise God, and asked them not to fear death. The entire event was 'led' by four different on-screen avatars, two women and two young men.

The rite, which included the sermon, prayers and music, was supervised by Jonas Simmerlein, a theologian and philosopher at the University of Vienna. "I conceived this service, although I was really more of a chaperone, I would say about 98% came from the machine," the 29-year-old theologian told AP.

"I said to the AI, 'We're at the church congress, you're a preacher...what would a church service look like?" explained Simmerlein. He also asked that psalms be included, as well as prayers and a blessing at the end.

The mass was one of hundreds of events at the convention of Protestants in the Bavarian cities of Nuremberg and neighboring Fürth, and aroused such immense interest that a long line of parishioners formed outside the 19th-century neo-Gothic building an hour before it began.

Some Mass-goers were less than enthusiastic, however, and refused to repeat the Lord's Prayer aloud during the ceremony. "There was no heart and no soul," said Heiderose Schmidt, a 54-year-old woman who works in the information technology sector. "The avatars showed no emotions at all, had no body language and spoke so fast and monotonously that it was very difficult for me to concentrate on what they were saying," she added.