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Clergy ranked in top 20 jobs most exposed to AI, but expert says 'don't panic!'

by Will Hobbs

A list of professions most at risk from the abilities of Artificial Intelligence, has put the role of church clergy in its top 20.

Out of 365 occupation categories, the study, by the Department of Education ranked clergy as the 13th most exposed profession to AI tools such as ChatGPT.

Secondary school teachers were ranked 14th whilst local government administrators featured 12th on the table.

The figures are based on what key skills are used in each profession, such as written comprehension and inductive reasoning.

However, Methodist Minister and Digital Theologian Rev Dr Pete Phillips told Premier that while the many administrative tasks including in running a church can be helped massively by AI technology, he struggles to see how the pastoral and emotional sides of church ministry could be carried out by a robot.

"Yesterday, I spent most of the day working with a family who had been bereaved, we have a crematorium service, then we transitioned over to the Thanksgiving service, and then a wake. And I just wonder how AI would have coped with all of that."

"I suppose it could have recited the words, I'm not sure it could have written the talk for the service.

"I'm not sure they could have done all the kinds of social engagement, which I did, as I walked around the tables."

"It's true that AI could help. But they certainly can't do away with the human touch of a clergy person."

AI tools used to organise church admin and digital communication are common place in thousands of churches.

But ChatGPT, a large-language modelling bot that can generate a range of text content, has been used by pastors for producing hymns, sermon-writing, and even full service planning, to questioned effect.  (hyperlink)

Phillips, who teaches a Masters course in Digital Theology at Spurgeon's College London, says there's an important qualification about AI which severely limits its ability in matters of creativity.

"Scientists are saying: 'Will you stop using the word intelligence to talk about these AI models, they're not intelligent!'

"All they can do is put one one word after another, to make some sense.

"It takes another step to actually become intelligent and able to do that creatively."

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