An artificial intelligence (AI) expert has said that the technology has "no faith" after a Suffolk bishop criticised the use of AI in his column for this newspaper.

The Rt Rev Martin Seeley, Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, writes about how he recently attended a conference on preaching where some of the attendees were quite open to the benefits of AI in drafting sermons.

He said some described the process of using AI as similar to what a preacher does already to create a sermon - scouring books and reading other people's sermons before crafting a sermon of their own.

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But Bishop Martin also reflected the views of others at the conference, who said a preacher was meant to have "faith and integrity" and that could not be conveyed by simply telling an AI device what to write. 

His concerns were shared by Professor Nicholas Caldwell, professor of information systems engineering at the University of Suffolk, who said the AI-generated sermon would be "just nice words that you have instructed a machine to generate for you".

He said AI was a 'text producer on steroids" and was similar to predictive text, which tried to predict future words so the writer did not have to type them.

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Professor Nicholas Caldwell, from the University of Suffolk, shared some of Bishop Martin's concernsProfessor Nicholas Caldwell, from the University of Suffolk, shared some of Bishop Martin's concerns (Image: University of Suffolk) "When he delivers the sermon, it will be from a position of faith. The AIs will come from a position of what they have been fed with and we have got to hope that what the AI has been fed with will be accurate," Prof Caldwell said.

He also had some sympathy with Bishop Martin's fears that the rise of AI and electronic communications in general could be contributing to a loss of "human-to-human connection".

In his column, the clergyman said: "Plenty of research has shown the growing disconnection between how people behave online and how they behave in real life. 

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"The number of ‘friends’ we have on Facebook rarely reflects the number of people we have a genuine human-to-human connection with."

Prof Caldwell said: "He does have a point there. It is easier sometimes to deal with the machines. It is easier sometimes to email.

"You have to face people in the real world when you say something rude to them, but not when you are anonymously putting out a Facebook post or whatever.

"There are certainly many people who might find it useful or better to spend less time online and more time with the people who are around them."

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The academic also spoke about wider concerns about the impact of AI, especially on the jobs market, but said there would be some jobs that people would prefer to be done by other humans, such as surgery.

"I think there is good and proper reason to have at least some concern. If you think of the coming of the world wide web and you think of your ability for years now to just be able to book your own flights on airline websites, how many travel agents are left in the UK?" he added.

He said there would be some jobs that would be lost to AI, while the parts of other jobs could be done by this technology.

"But the question is, what can we do that is better than them? What can they not mimic in any way? Where does AI fall down?" he added.

Of course, journalism is another profession that could be threatened by AI, but Prof Caldwell said the technology might not be able to convey nuance or pick up cues from chatting to somebody in the same way as a trained human reporter.