Nope! AI is not ready for covering the complexity of religious diversity.

Just to be clear about this illustration of an “AI chatbot priest.” No, the short-lived “Father Justin” did not look like this, but this is how one AI image-generator conceived of such an idea.

The cautionary tale of ‘Father Justin’ and why we’re not handing the publishing house keys to AI

Our readers and authors often ask us whether AI systems can automate painstakingly complex processes in book publishing—like copy editing, for example. And our team explains why AI isn’t ready, yet, for the nuances and complexities of our specialities, which are: the realms of religious and cultural diversity and community caregiving.

We had a little fun at Dall-e’s expense last year with a column that drew a lot of online readers, headlined: “Why Dall-e is not ready for prime-time publishing.”

But lots of media organizations keep experimenting with AI—and we had to chuckle at the crash-and-burn efforts to foster an AI chatbot priest—”Father Justin”—who could answer spiritual seekers’ questions about the Catholic faith.

If you want to know more about that ill-fated experiment, The National Catholic Reporter has a great overview by journalist Rebecca Bratten Weiss (digital editor of Catholic magazine). Her story is headlined: The Rise and Fall of ‘Father Justin’ Highlights Catholic Sexism.

Weiss opens her story this way:

The conservative apologetics platform Catholic Answers’ initial foray into the world of AI ended abruptly, when the group decided to pull their “Father Justin” chatbot character only two days after showcasing him. The chatbot was subjected to scathing criticisms from Catholics of diverse ideological persuasions. A few complaints had to do with tech glitches, but most people seemed concerned about theological errors in the bot’s answers, as well as with the theological implications latent in the fact that it had been created at all.

Then veteran journalist and author Bill Tammeus added his own take on this AI debacle, headlined: An AI ‘priest’ gets defrocked almost immediately. Good.

Ultimately, Bill concluded:

Sad to say, even in such Christian branches as the Presbyterian Church (USA), of which my congregation is a member, women (who weren’t allowed to be ordained as pastors until 1956) still often struggle to break through the stained-glass ceiling. That’s a bigotry that hurts the whole church, especially the non-AI flesh-and-blood people in the pews. Sigh.

Front Edge is, indeed, on the cutting edge of digital innovation

Lest readers of this column think of our publishing house as a bastion of Luddites—we are, in fact, known among mid-sized publishers as cutting-edge developers of publishing software systems.

Our production software is far more flexible in producing multiple formats of books (from hardcover to paperback and various ebook editions) than the more traditional systems used by other publishers. And, yes, we even use AI tools for various steps in the production and marketing of books—mainly to check on what other collective wisdom might be lurking in AI databases. Every now and then, we discover a valuable phrase, detail or insight—which we then thoroughly research before even thinking of using the AI-generated nugget in our own publishing process.

So, AI definitely is coming. It’s evolving rapidly. We’re supporters of the overall trend.

But, as we reported in 2023, AI doesn’t seem to have learned much about tackling the complex world of religious diversity over the past year.

A tip for our many authors—and those thousands of church leaders out there who have to write a fresh column and/or sermon every week—our advice remains the same:

AI may be tempting, but it’s far from any Ultimate Source of Truth.



About David Crumm

David Crumm is founding Editor of Front Edge Publishing. Nationally, he is known as a veteran journalist—a top writer and editor—with experience both in the U.S. and overseas. He is based in Canton, Michigan, where he also serves as Editor of Read the Spirit online magazine. His columns on trends in media appear twice a month on our Front Edge Publishing website.

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