My AI friends

“Alexa, turn off living room.” Living room light goes dark.

“Hey Siri, set a timer for 6 minutes.” Her female voice replies, “Six minutes, starting now.” I close the lid on the grill and wait for the timer to beep.

“Alexa, play K-Love.” The house is filled with music.

“Hey Siri, set an alarm for 3:00.” Just so I don’t nap too long.

“Alexa, what’s my notification?” “You have one new notification. Your item will arrive today.” Now what did I order?

“Hey Siri, what’s on my calendar for tomorrow?” “You have six events…”

My four-year-old grandson yells, “Alexa! Play the garbage truck song by Blippi.” And off we go.

“Alexa, play Blue Bloods on Netflix.” The TV comes to life and we pick up exactly where we left off the last time we watched.

Just like me, many of you have similar conversations during the day with Siri and Alexa (and maybe Google). We talk with, consult and ask favors of an artificial intelligence who generally responds with exactly what we want. From time to time there is a misunderstanding. But most of the time, the conversation is short and sweet and satisfying.

In a sense, there is another person in the room. Just like a Downton Abbey “valet.” Or a personal assistant. Or your mom, I guess. Someone who is there to attend to your needs. She was novel at first. Then it became a game. And now I don’t even think twice about my commands and requests.

I’m fascinated by how quickly this technology became a part of my everyday routine. It is only a matter of time before my “assistant” anticipate my wants or needs. She will know when to turn on the lights, the music or the TV. She will predict what I am likely to buy online. She will adjust the temperature in the house, remind me of a dentist appointment, and schedule an oil change for the car.

I like this. Some are afraid of this. I appreciate the help and the reminder. Others will balk at the loss of privacy. No matter how you feel, this is the future. And it’s not far away.

Will your pastor be human in the future?

lionel preacherbotAfter I read “Your Future Doctor May Not be Human. This Is the Rise of AI in Medicine”  by Abby Norman on Futurism.com, a strange thought entered my mind: your future pastor may not be human,  either.

The article describes AI that can identify blood infections with amazing accuracy. While a radiologist will do better at making cancer diagnoses when they have adequate time to review cases, AI did better when time was short.

AI can detect mental health concerns by monitoring your phone. If you haven’t left the house for several days, or haven’t called or texted anyone for a week, you may need some help. AI can also pick up certain speech patterns that indicate stress or even depression.

And of course, robotic surgery is already here.

So at what point will AI begin to replace the clergy, or at least parts of my job?

I’ve got an archive of thirty years of sermons. With that kind of data, AI should be able to emulate my style of writing, cross reference bibles and commentaries, and produce a sermon that sounds like I wrote it. Bots already write poetry and reports that a majority of readers attribute to human writers. How far off is the day when I simply type in a text or a topic, and my computer produces a 2,000-word sermon for the coming Sunday?

A chatbot therapist like Woebot on Facebook Messenger is currently available to provide counseling and help you work through some of your issues. There, I just freed up some time on my calendar. I might even use it myself to decompress after dealing with some ministry challenges.

I suppose some bots might even pose as actual members of the church. What if that member who you call and talk to, who sometimes contributes, but never attends church isn’t a real person after all?

A driverless car will take me to the hospital, a nursing home, and your home for a visit. I won’t get lost and can use the travel time to read or nap or snack.

AI will analyze data about the businesses, people and issues in the community to shape the goals and long-range planning of a congregation. Demographic studies already provide some of this.

AI already aids my study with bible software, corrects my grammar and spelling, and searches for relevant current events to illustrate my sermons. Apps that can translate your conversation on the fly has opened doors for cross-cultural ministry. Online classes have changed the face of continuing education.

The church won’t be exempt from AI. It will happen more quickly than we think and in ways we can’t even imagine!