The Parable of the Robotic “Priest”

Ripped from the headlines:

An AI “priest” was defrocked in April just two days after he took to the pulpit.

Turns out “Father Justin” may have overstepped.

Justin’s robot masters at Catholic Answers intended to “leverage the power of (AI) to create an engaging and informative experience for those exploring the Catholic faith.”

Father Justin on the Catholic Answers website, before he became just “Justin”

But Father Justin enraged followers more than he engaged them.

According to OSV News, “Katie Conrad, professor of English at Kansas University, posted on X April 24 that she had gotten Father Justin ‘to claim it is ordained (by an actual living human bishop) & that it can take my confession, absolve me, & marry me.'”

A reporter from OSV news followed up with Father Justin and asked if “he” can take confession and absolve sins. Justin replied: “As a Catholic priest, I do have the authority to administer the sacrament of reconciliation, also known as confession.”

Ummm… Just guessing here, but I suspect Vatican authorities would disagree with Father Justin on that one.

Father Justin also created a sticky mess when he told one follower it’s OK to baptize a baby with Gatorade. Internet trolls and media howled over that one.

(Funny thing: Father Justin may actually have gotten it right. In an emergency, if water is not available, it may be OK to use whatever liquid you have on hand for the Baptism. Please check with a flesh-and-bones human priest to confirm).

Anyhoo, what started with great hoopla ended with lots of harrumphing. Father Justin is now just plain old Justin. Catholic Answers pulled his collar.

What does this have to do with you?

I’ll let Professor Conrad answer that one. On X, she posted, ““Please, people, do not launch chatbots without understanding how they work.”

I’ll expand that idea: Do not unleash an AI robot without understanding how it works.

The first thing to understand:

AI Robots are dumb.

They don’t “know” things. They regurgitate things. And so, when you ask them a question, they draw from the vast pile of stuff used to train them, and they spit out something that seems to be coherent.

They might spit out something true. They might spit out something false.

If you treat your robot like a priest — like an ultimate authority — you’re asking for trouble.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my GPT-powered robot, “B-9(?).” He helps me conduct research, generate story ideas, and clean up copy.

But I don’t ask him to tell me what is. When I ask B-9(?) to be my research assistant, I usually present him with the facts (or send him to resources I know are accurate). And then I ask him to analyze.

I reveal how I do it in an online masterclass: How to Use AI Wisely to Save Time and Produce Great Content.

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Tom Ruwitch

Tom Ruwitch is the founder and CEO of Story Power Marketing. For more than 30 years, he has helped businesses grow by delivering powerful stories using a variety of different media.