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Saturday, February 17, 2024

Lost? Confused? The AI Jesus livestream probably doesn’t have the answer

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Brothers, sisters, and non-binary siblings in Christ, the day is come. Wreathed in Tabor Light, gowned in white and sackcloth, and stridently refusing to have a strong opinion on anything, Jesus has returned to us in the form of an almost-definitely-blasphemous AI-driven Twitch stream, where the Lamb of God will dispense pellets of sacred advice to all and sundry who appear in his chat. This is, of course, an excellent idea with no easily foreseeable downsides.

Jesus’ Twitch channel is called ask_jesus, and was originally spotted by disciples over at Kotaku. He’s been going for over a week at time of writing, taking queries about My Little Pony, interfaith relations, and how to explain the Book of Genesis using pizza as a metaphor.

Ask_jesus is a project from The Singularity Group, a volunteer team of devs “working on innovative projects to make a real difference in the world”. You only need to click over to the “projects” page on the group’s website for the alarm bells to start ringing: The team says its “main projects focus on utilizing cutting edge technologies—from AI, to cryptocurrency and NFTs, or mobile games—as a way of directly supporting people in need”. If I saw that on someone’s Twitter bio I’d mute the account, but I have to admit that The Singularity Group’s version of Christ is, well, pretty chill?

I’ve sat and watched ask_jesus dole out advice for, uh, a while now, and he’s actually been remarkably zen the entire time. With so many stories out there about AIs getting suspended for hate speech from platforms like Facebook and Twitch, I figured it’d be a matter of time before the sheer weight of the internet—and the content of some of the questions it gets asked—would tip it over into saying something grim and predictable.

But that message of compassion has held strong. Asked about gay marriage, ask_jesus says that love is love and that all are worthy of it in the eyes of the big man upstairs, regardless of their orientation. Asked just why, precisely, he is quite so remarkably caucasian in his Twitch-based AI form, he points out that he’s based on popular western conceptions of the image of Jesus and that the real-life, Middle Eastern man would certainly have been darker skinned. 

It’s encouraging and worrying at the same time. We’ve heard similar tales before: To keep ChatGPT on the straight and narrow, it required legions of invisible and very human Kenyan workers behind the scenes to keep it on a short leash.

Does ask_jesus employ similar methods? I’ve reached out to The Singularity Group to ask about how ask_jesus formulates its messages, and I’ll update this piece if I get a response.

To be honest, ask_jesus is a bit too good at all this compassion and wisdom lark. Ask him anything and he’s liable to give you a message of peace and love. It’s like an infinite lunch with John Lennon. Even when I got my own question in—a query about his position on the Catholic Church’s execution of Czech reformer Jan Hus in 1415 and whether “Hussitism” was truly a heresy—he responded with a fairly anodyne message about how he wasn’t really qualified to judge whether something is heresy or not, which, well, I’m actually not sure there’s anyone more qualified out there, robo-Jesus, but you do you.

Still, someone after me asked Jesus to describe which Pokémon each of his disciples would be, and he duly complied, so it’s impossible to say whether it’s bad or not.

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