20 April 2024

Artificial Intelligence: Considering the opportunities and challenges

Captain Mark Scoulding

An image shows a depiction of the last supper created by artificial intelligence in an impressionist style.

Captain Mark Scoulding considers how we might use artificial intelligence in mission and ministry.

We use artificial intelligence all the time, whether we realise it or not. When you use your supermarket loyalty card and your favourite brands pop up when you shop online, that’s AI. When you take a picture of a loved one and their photos are collated into an album on your smartphone, that’s AI.

How can The Salvation Army use this tool to further God’s Kingdom? I did a little research. (Full disclosure: I have no training. I’m also not offering answers, just questions to get you thinking.)

The first thing I looked at was how AI might be used in spiritual ministry. I downloaded a program called Dall-E, which generates pictures from text prompts. I asked it to generate impressionist-style paintings based on Mark 14:22–24, the Last Supper. The images (see above) are beautiful, but what are they? Faithful interpretations of Scripture? Amalgamations of existing imagery associated with the text? Or something else?

For me, a key consideration is bias. When I typed in the text, I didn’t specify the race or gender of the disciples, but the program generated them all as white men. Is that something it gleaned from images that already exist?

I think we need to grapple with a serious question. Does, or can, the Holy Spirit work through this technology, extending God’s Kingdom and enabling us to fulfil our calling?

The next thing I explored was how AI might theoretically be used for social media. I downloaded the chatbot ChatGPT and prompted it to ask me about what we do, how we do it and why we do it. I then asked it to create text for an Instagram post about our Christmas present appeal.

It was an iterative process: I didn’t like the wording, so I asked it to tweak that. I also had to edit the imagery. So does using a chatbot actually equate to saving time and energy? And what safeguards would need to be put in place to ensure that content generated would be in line with our values?

Finally, how might AI be used to measure our ministry’s impact? As a former public affairs officer, I know the importance of data and using it well. But as a corps officer, I know how difficult it can be to gather it. Could AI help?

I asked ChatGPT to generate a five-question survey. Again, I needed the chatbot to amend words, but it saved me some time and generated a presentation about the appeal. I circulated this presentation and got amazing feedback. It led to all sorts of conversations by helping us tell a story about what we do and why we do it.

Did the chatbot enable me to build expertise here? Or did it enable me to become reliant on technology I don’t fully understand? The data and narrative it assembled: were they reliable and did they really measure our ministry’s impact? And in such hypothetical scenarios, what checks and balances would need to be put into place to ensure the credibility of the Army – and God – is protected?

What challenges and opportunities do you think AI presents? William Booth perhaps would have asked another question: why let the Devil have all the best tech?

  • Based on a presentation to Masic, of which Captain Mark Scoulding is a member.

Written by

The Salvation Army red shield

Captain Mark Scoulding

Corps Officer, Watford

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