April 19, 2023
Last week, I wrote about the emerging applications of Artificial Intelligence. This week is more of the same, because I’m absolutely fascinated by it. I want to also extend some gratitude to people who have responded to last week’s post. It’s given me a lot to think about and I love the dialogue. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any thoughts, curiosity, critiques, or responses to this.
This past week I utilized the ChatGPT program to help format a Microsoft Excel sheet. A small confession, I’m not great with Excel. I can use it, and sometimes even use it effectively, but if you ask me to do anything reasonably sophisticated, I start to fumble around. The details of the application are mundane (highlighting duplicate entries in a sheet so we can track if we are repeating hymns too much, which I realized I have done a couple times), but all I had to do was type in, “write a formula for Microsoft Excel that identifies duplicate numbers throughout the entirety of the sheet.” It gave me a formula that only applied to individual cells, so I prompted, “I want it to automatically register duplicates throughout the sheet” and it gave me exactly what I was looking for.
That’s magic to me! It’s a practical application of this technology that allows me to provide a better variety of music in our worship. This is the exact sort of thing that I could see making things so much easier for me. Instead of spending a half an hour formatting a sheet, going back and forth with Google, reentering failing formulas, getting frustrated, and just doing it manually, it took me less than five minutes.
The New York Times had an article this past week entitled, “35 Ways People Are Using AI Right Now.” I won’t detail all 35, but in reading this list you can start to see the ways that this can transform everyday life: planning gardens, weekly meal plans, or workouts; designing spaceship parts; writing email drafts; organizing research and summarizing academic articles; transcribing doctor’s visit notes; translating documents; creating apps; creating games; creating new protein structures; among many other things.
These are mostly value-neutral things that I listed. I’m sure there are ethical considerations to iron out when it comes to something like writing emails (should that be something you need to personalize? Even if it’s something like an insurance appeal?), but these are generally things that have practical implications without duplicity or artifice.
This week I am preaching on Luke 24:13-35. I’ve started an outline of the sermon, so I’ve got myself on the path and have an idea of where I’m going. But as I was drafting this post, I was curious, so I prompted ChatGPT, “Write five topics that could be explored in a sermon on the road to Emmaus” and it replied:
The importance of recognizing Jesus in unexpected places: The disciples on the road to Emmaus did not initially recognize Jesus, but their eyes were opened when he broke bread with them. This can teach us to look for Christ's presence in our daily lives, even in places where we might not expect to find him.
The role of doubt in our faith journey: The disciples on the road to Emmaus were struggling with doubt and confusion after Jesus' death, but their encounter with him renewed their faith. We too can learn from their experience that doubt is a natural part of the faith journey, and that God can use it to strengthen and deepen our faith.
The power of storytelling: Jesus taught the disciples on the road to Emmaus through storytelling, explaining how the Scriptures had foretold his death and resurrection. We can learn from his example by using stories to help others understand and connect with the message of the Gospel.
The significance of the Eucharist: The breaking of bread with Jesus on the road to Emmaus has become a powerful symbol of the Eucharist, the sacrament of Christ's body and blood. We can explore the meaning and significance of this sacrament in our own lives, and how it connects us with Christ and with one another.
The call to evangelize: After their encounter with Jesus on the road to Emmaus, the disciples were filled with joy and went out to share the Good News with others. We too are called to share the Gospel with those around us, and this story can inspire us to do so with enthusiasm and joy.
Luckily, none of these were where I was heading, but I can easily see myself writing a sermon that covered all those topics (particularly the third, that one seems fun). Is it fair of me to write a sermon based on something a computer told me would be a good idea? Is the fact that it would be my authentic voice that expands on the topic enough to cover the fact that it wasn’t my idea in the first place? Is it really that different from me writing a sermon that picks up on an idea that I saw in a commentary written by a human being? How much of a computer-generated topic do I need to expand on for it to be completely my own? If I do this every week, does that mean I’m getting intellectually lazy or am just utilizing resources well? I don’t have answers, but I figure as long as I’m asking the questions, then I can at least know what answers I’m seeking.
I’ve got more to say on AI, but this is already too long of a post.
Until next week!
Twelve Corners Presbyterian Church is located at 1200 S. Winton Road in Brighton, NY. We welcome you to join us for worship on Sunday mornings at 10:00 a.m. in the sanctuary (and via YouTube). If you have any questions, please contact us by calling 585-244-8585 or sending an email through our secure contact page.