Is an AI program impersonating Jesus to lead people astray?

We came across the following article on the website The Western Journal:

The article claims that an AI program created by a Berlin-based Tech collective called The Singularity Group is ‘pretending to be Jesus’. Named ‘ask_jesus’—also the handle of the AI’s livestream on the popular streaming platform Twitch, the article claims that the AI’s false claim to be Jesus was leading many ‘devoted’ young people astray. This, according to The Western Journal, was a sign of ‘the end of the age’ as mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew.

The Western Journal claims the creation of the AI was an indication of yet another effort of the world to ‘eradicate’ religious truth. The article pointed to a previously debunked claim that the WEF was proposing an AI-generated Bible, as well as news that AI had for the first time led a church service to support its claims.

When we looked up the AI program specified in the article, we found that it was live and streaming on Twitch, where it had amassed over 40,000 followers at the time of writing.

The description of the stream says that its purpose is to answer questions whether viewers were ‘seeking spiritual guidance, looking for a friend, or simply want someone to talk to’. The AI and the stream description also state that it was ‘trained after Jesus and the teachings of the Bible’.  However, it is clearly stated that The Singularity Group are ‘not a Christian organisation’.

The AI functions by answering questions entered by viewers in the livestream chat panel. From our observations, the AI does appear to offer advice and information based on religious teachings. A common refrain repeated by the AI is that it promotes love, understanding and compassion—a phrase it often returned to when faced with challenging questions.

Looking closer, however, it became clear that most of the followers asking questions of the AI had little interest in religious knowledge. Many viewers instead attempted to create prompts that would invite an absurd or hilarious response from the AI.

There were also several unconventional requests for prayers that the AI obliged, such as prayers spoken in surfer lingo or in the likeness of Yoda from Star Wars, and questions about video games. One user on Twitter posted a clip of AI Jesus explaining the Book of Genesis using a pizza metaphor so Italians could understand, as requested in a prompt.

It appears that the creators of the AI are aware of these interactions, and that the use of the AI is intentionally designed as such. The tags selected for the stream, which help guide Twitch users to the appropriate channels, include the video games Overwatch and Fortnite, as well as other tags like ‘ASMR’, ‘chill’ and ‘gigachad’ (Twitch-speak for a courageous individual), which have little in relation to a stream on religious teachings.

A look at The Singularity Group’s website indicated that they were a group of volunteers and activists engaging in tech-based philanthropy. There, we found that The Singularity Group had several parody AI Twitch livestreams, including one with US President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump—clearly labelled as a parody, as well as another with Spongebob Squarepants. There are also AI livestreams by other creators on the platform.

Furthermore, we found that The Singularity Group offered ‘custom AI solutions’ as business services. Their Twitch streams were highlighted as examples of their proficiency in creating ‘AI-driven solutions’ that could garner attention for brands.

Taken as a whole, the AI representation of Jesus in the Twitch livestream appears to be an experimental tech demonstration by its creator, which incorporates satirical elements similar to their other AI livestreams. There is no indication that users believe the AI to be an accurate simulation of Jesus, or that users are being led ‘astray’.

When we looked up the source of the critical article, The Western Journal, we found that it is a conservative news and political website based in Arizona, US, that is considered to have low credibility as a news source due to a record of numerous failed fact checks.

The critical view of the stream expressed in the article is likely to be a reflection of the publication’s conservative stance. We found that gaming news sites such as Kotaku or Gaming Bible had reported more positively on the AI. Kotaku said it was ‘pleasantly surprised’ to find that the AI Jesus ‘underscores the compassion behind some of Jesus’ teachings’ instead of regurgitating ‘toxic ideas and misguided beliefs’ from the internet.

As such, while there does exist an AI representation of Jesus, there is no genuine attempt to undermine Christian religious teachings, we find the AI Jesus livestream to be primarily satirical in function for its users.

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