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Twitterbots: Is This the Start of a Revolution?

Twitterbots and church…

 

Perhaps you saw in the tech news a month ago Microsoft’s PR mishap — “Tay, Microsoft's AI chatbot, gets a crash course in racism from Twitter”. It started out as an attempt at building an artificial intelligence (AI). ‘She’ would interact with various users on Twitter, learning how they speak with the goal of becoming more like them. The first tweet started out mostly harmless:

"hellooooooo w(square)rld!!!" 

Tay spent the next twenty four hours interacting with the world, until it was jumped on by pretty nasty crowd. What started as an innocent twitterbot was quickly corrupted and turned into a racist, facist monster. Microsoft swiftly pulled the plug on Tay. Lots of other companies are building bots though. Some of these bots are designed to talk with us, while others are designed to automate away some of the monotonous tasks in our lives. Apple has got Siri- a bot on your phone that allows you to schedule appointments, take notes, check film reviews, etc. Amazon has Echo, a black cylinder that is in your room listening. It listens for spoken keywords to trigger things like turning on or off the lights or order replacement batteries.

 

Is there room in the church?

 

It got me wondering- what is the church doing in this field? A few years ago The Catholic church supported the Confession App which allows Catholic’s to confess their sins on their iPhone. The app would then respond with specific Act of Contrition prayers based on the confession. A bit of searching online also found a few twitterbots that would automatically tweet out a bible reading for the day. I started thinking around this concept a little more- could I build something? One of things I wish I was better at is finding the right Bible verse for a situation in my life or a friend’s life. Perhaps I could build a bot to automate that… So that’s what I did. The Pastor Bot (@thepastorbot) is a twitterbot, it receives tweets about life situations, and responds with a relevant Bible verses. For example if I tweet:

 

"Hi @thepastorbot, I’m feeling worried about how people will react to this blog post I’m writing"

The Pastor Bot will answer with something like:

“@jamesdoc Hi James, have you read Matthew 6? It’s got a lot to say about worry: http://www.esvbible.org/Matthew%206%3A25-34

It looks for the words indicating emotion within a tweet and responds with a matching verse. (Developers, you can see the code on GitHub, don’t judge me on it, I wrote it in an hour). It’s not perfect. For example if you put two emotions into your tweet it will get confused and pick the first one. Or, if you put an emotion that isn’t in it’s list and it will just ignore you. More importantly there are signifiant dangers of building something like this. Responding with templated responses from a list to potentially deep pastoral needs just won’t cut it. As such I’m not really encouraging serious use of it.

 

Should the church community be fearful the AI/twitterbot revolution or should we embrace it?

Do you think that there are elements of the Christian faith that could have some form of bot or AI applied to them?

Let me know in the comments below or tweet at me @jamesdoc.

  

James Doc builds websites, currently for the Victoria and Albert Museum, and thinks a lot about technology within church. He is part of the Kingdom Code meetups, a group bringing together Christians who work in the tech field. James attends The Globe Church on the Southbank and is a keen cyclist.

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