Using AI and Innovative Technology in the Adventist Church

General Conference

Using AI and Innovative Technology in the Adventist Church

Adapting to the modern mission field with AI technology

Commentary | Silver Spring, Maryland, United States | Nicole Dominguez

We’re living in a modern world. It’s unavoidable, the technologies of modern engineering have filtered into even the most mundane portions of everyday life to such a point that we are unable to function in a professional or personal capacity without the aid of Artificial Intelligence. But what does it mean on a biblical level? Do we as believers shun such artificial intelligence as mistakes akin to those in apocalyptic fiction? Or embrace it completely? In this episode of ANN InDepth, hosts Sam Neves and Jennifer Stymiest are joined by Daryl Gungadoo the Adventist Review Media Lab Director to untangle the complex ethics surrounding Artificial Intelligence in the Adventist church.

Artificial intelligence is something that can fall under “fuzzy logic” a term used by scientists that explains the difficulty to pin down the complexity and range of AI’s capability. However, Daryl Gungadoo gives his own simplified definition which is “a system that can be programmed to learn”. Websites, cars, phones, even our refrigerators are learning the patterns of human life simply through memory and programming language. We have undergone four industrial revolutions, each further advancing the boundaries of innovation and convenience. Gungadoo breaks down each wave from the mechanization of waterpower and steam power, to the mass production of assembylines, to computer automation to the final wave upon which we are about to ride, which is cyber physical systems. Gungadoo elaborates by saying “the fourth industrial revolution is characterized by the fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, the digital and the biological sphere”. For many, watching the upcoming fourth wave of the industrial revolution may seem daunting, fearful that it will drown us in enough tracking, information, and technological ties that feel more appropriate in a dystopian Issac Asmov novel. However this is not always the case.

Yes, the new technologies will be an advanced form of AI, however these advancements could work in the church’s favor. New vehicles for evangelism might arise with the upcoming networking systems, allowing the church to reach more people than before. It would also allow for greater management of church administration and ministry. The introduction of Chatbots allows automated replies to the hundreds of questions asked a day through church sites and social media. In South America, these chatbots are serving 30,000 bible studies a week by offering round the clock availability, which is flexible for the thousands of members who might have unique scheduling, leaving space for church administration to focus on other aspects of ministry such as person to person prayer warriors responding to the 1.4 million prayer requests submitted through facebook communities. AI platforms provide global connections, ensuring that there is 24/7 access to someone to be present in times of crisis or celebration. 

It has been a consistent fear that AI’s will soon take the place of human interaction, depending on the cool expedience of artificial intelligence. However, both Neves and Gungadoo are quick to point out that the use of AI’s in church ministry is never meant to be a replacement, but an aide. Reluctance to accept technological innovation is often attributed to age, however Gungadoo points out that age is often irrelevant when it comes to adapting to new technology. He breaks it down to Innovators, Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority, and Laggards. These designations are not defined by age, but by willingness to adopt new AI’s. An added layer is to see whether the willingness to see the value in new technology will transition to seeing its function in furthering the kingdom. No matter your age, it is beneficial to find the balance between replacing human connection, and unnecessary fear at the risk of limiting ministry. 

As mentioned, the common fear is the invasive nature of the AI technology which might remove our privacy, as well as our function, threatening our jobs. If a computer can run bible studies, log prayer requests, organize worship services, and perform church administration, many can see themselves replaced by such artificial intelligence. This conversation reveals a question that has been at the heart of every industrial and scientific revolution, which is: what does it mean to be human? The abilities and intelligence learned was given by humanity, setting the clock in motion before letting it run. However, humans in ministry can never be replaced. Humans can boast of a gift that we could never give, which is that we were made in God's image. The relational and emotional complexity of spiritual communion cannot be taught or known in full. No matter how advanced, an AI could never pray with the power of the holy spirit, nor counsel others through spiritual doubts, nor understand the depth of our power in finally understanding God’s grace. We were created in His image with the intent for the Spirit to live and move through us. For all our abilities, we can never code the complexity of what it is to live by God.