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BYU Education Week: Can ChatGPT teach a Sunday School lesson?

‘Should people fear AI or shun it?’ asks professor Aaron D. Franklin

PROVO, Utah — Aaron D. Franklin, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Duke University, asked his BYU Education Week class of over 100 people what they thought of artificial intelligence in a poll that populated participants’ answers on a large screen. Most responded with words like “interesting” or “still deciding.”

But the number one word people used to describe AI?

“Scary.”

In recent months, AI chatbots that allow for increasingly human-like responses to questions have skyrocketed in popularity and use. ChatGPT, which stands for Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer, is a tool that responds to users’ questions with answers that can match a person’s desired length and level of detail.

Most attendees during the Wednesday, Aug. 23, class also answered a poll question about how much they’ve used ChatGPT — the majority stating they’d never used it and only 10% claiming they use it frequently.

ChatGPT can do a variety of tasks — writing songs or an entire novel, plan a travel itinerary, and even pass college entrance exams.

A question Franklin received was “Is there an LDS Church chatbot?” His response: “Kind of.”

“If you go to ldsbot.com you will find a chatbot that runs as an API off of Chat GPT-4 and is using a library of information expressly defined based on Church materials. But its definition of Church materials will not be the same as yours,” Franklin said. “It’s a bit broader.”

This chatbot is not affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and “is experimental,” noted Franklin.

Josh Coates, one of the developers of ldsbot.com, said in an interview with Deseret News recently that “This experimental AI is primarily for people participating or interested in the Latter-day Saint faith tradition.”

People can ask it questions about scripture and doctrine, “but it struggles,” said Franklin. “It struggles with accurate quotations from Church leaders.”

For example, after showing how ChatGPT works by telling the bot to plan a travel itinerary for Provo, Utah, Franklin asked the bot to play the role of the Book of Mormon prophet Nephi in a conversation. He read some of the responses and emphasized his previous warning by noting that everything that the bot said in the role of Nephi was not completely true. 

Nephi prays by a stream, as depicted in this photograph from the portrayal in the Book of Mormon Videos.
An actor portraying Nephi prays by a stream. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“Pitfalls of an AI chatbot: confident but wrong,” he said. This is where the concern over the chatbots comes from. 

Although chatbots are improving, “Always check for accuracy,” Franklin advised.

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Using AI in church

“Remember the Spirit,” said Franklin. 

Quoting President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, Franklin said: “The Lord’s plan is to advance ever more rapidly His word and His works and the effects of His gospel throughout the world. … [The Lord] has revealed the technology that enables the Church to take full advantage of these advances. … Never forget that while we have computers, cameras, microphones, fiber-optic networks, clouds and satellites, we have failed if we do not rely on the Holy Ghost.”

Franklin continued by sharing a scripture from Mosiah 23:13, emphasizing the instruction to “stand fast in this liberty whereby ye have been made free and trust no man — or AI — to be king over you. And also trust no one to be your teacher, nor your minister, except he be a man of God. i.e. not a chatbot. A chatbot can’t be a thing or a person of God.”

People listen as Alma teaches of Abinadi. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Although there are pitfalls, there are also positives.

“Should we fear AI and shun it?” he asked. People shouldn’t be any more afraid of AI or chatbots than they are of the internet. 

“Fear” was the initial response when the internet first came out, he explained.

Although a lot of bad has come from the internet, there has been so much good — “especially for the Lord’s work.” And chatbots have the same potential.

“So can ChatGPT write a Sunday School lesson?” asked Franklin. “Do you want to know my answer? The answer is no. No more than a lesson manual can teach it.”

ChatGPT is a resource similar to the static resources people have become accustomed to over the years, he stated. “It’s a resource, a tool.”

But, Franklin concluded, “Do not allow it to upend the dependence on God. Recognize, like with any other tool or resource, that this can be a powerful one if it’s used in conjunction with our reliance on the Spirit.”

Christ raises the daughter of Jairus from death while her family looks on in gratitude. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
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