AI Preachers: Undermining Credibility and Donations for Religious Groups

AI Preachers Lack Credibility and May Reduce Donations for Religious Groups, Study Finds

A recent study conducted by the American Psychological Association suggests that the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) in various professions, including religion, poses a challenge for religious groups. Robot preachers and AI programs that aim to share religious beliefs may undermine credibility and lead to reduced donations.

Lead researcher Joshua Conrad Jackson, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago, argues that religious leaders require credibility, something that robots cannot provide. While AI technology continues to advance and robots are taking over more occupations, religion may be an exception due to the necessity of human credibility.

Research Experiment: Mindar Robot at a Buddhist Temple in Kyoto

To explore the impact of robot preachers on faith communities, Jackson and his colleagues conducted an experiment at the Kodai-Ji Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan. They used the Mindar humanoid robot, a technologically advanced creation with a humanlike silicon face, moving lips, blinking eyes, and a metal body. Mindar delivers 25-minute sermons on Buddhist principles using surround sound and multi-media projections.

Although the development of Mindar cost almost $1 million, the study suggests that its presence may actually decrease donations to the temple.

The Study’s Findings

The researchers surveyed 398 participants leaving the temple after hearing a sermon from either Mindar or a human Buddhist priest. The results showed that participants perceived Mindar as less credible and made smaller donations compared to those who heard the sermon from a human priest.

A similar experiment conducted at a Taoist temple in Singapore with a humanoid robot called Pepper yielded comparable results. Half of the 239 participants listened to a sermon delivered by a human priest, while the other half heard the same sermon from Pepper. Once again, the robot was seen as less credible, resulting in smaller donations. Participants who heard the robot sermon also expressed a decreased likelihood of sharing the message or distributing supporting materials for the temple.

Interestingly, while participants still believed human preachers to be more credible, the gap between human preachers and robot preachers was relatively close. Robot preachers received an average credibility rating of 3.12 on a scale of 1 to 5, while human preachers received a rating of 3.51.

Implications for Various Religions

Although the experiments focused on Eastern religions, the lead researcher, Jackson, believes that the findings may apply to other religious traditions as well.

A third experiment involved 274 Christian participants from the United States who read a sermon online. Half of the participants were told the sermon was written by a human preacher, while the other half were informed that it was generated by a highly advanced AI program. Participants who believed the sermon was AI-generated perceived it as less credible because they felt that AI programs lacked the capacity to think and feel like human beings.

This study suggests that religious organizations relying heavily on technology, such as robots and AI programs, instead of human leaders who can demonstrate their faith, may experience declining commitment from their congregations. While some individuals believe that robots could be effective preachers, the majority remains unconvinced.

Ultimately, the research highlights the importance of credibility and the unique role that human leaders play within religious communities. As AI continues to advance, it is essential to consider how its integration may impact religious practices and beliefs.

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