A Top Secret Look at Adventist Technological Innovation

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Published:
April 1, 2019

It may seem to some Adventists, far removed from the General Conference, that administrative leadership is a bit retrograde when it comes to progressive ideas. This is understandable when seeing some of these folk sporting 19th century-style beards. But looks are deceiving and, with some intrepid investigative reporting, Spectrum has uncovered multiple technology projects underway in Silver Spring. Because some members might consider them controversial, they have not been publicized and are in various stages of development, with the possibility of further modifications going forward. So it is understandable that the church is reluctant to keep us informed. But, just as people like to peek into the ongoing R&D of technology companies, we felt that, given all the time and costly effort Spectrum has invested in learning about these projects, it was worth revealing some preliminary details. So here is our exclusive “reveal” of what the church is up to — technologically.

The Virtual Pastor Project

The problems and cost of pastoral coverage continue to mount. Many districts in North America, for example, have three or four churches, sometimes more. This prevents the pastor from being physically present each week. So, rather than have unqualified and theologically-suspect substitutes, the VP project is developing two different approaches:

1. The holographic pastor: current hologram technology, while expensive, can provide projection that can cover an entire room — such as a church sanctuary. Thus a district pastor can pre-record a sermon, and simultaneously be virtually present at every church service in the district, each Sabbath. The illusion of presence would, of course, break down if that was all that could be projected, so the basic sermonic core is augmented by AI technology that allows the virtual pastor to walk down the aisle, sing the particular hymns of the day, and even greet parishioners, as long as it is within the room. Of course, the illusion would be revealed if any member actually were to try and touch the projection, so it is expected that this model would only be deployed in predominantly white churches, where the likelihood of someone wanting to give the pastor a hug, or even a handshake, was minimal.

2. Augmented Reality headsets and ear buds: this project cannot keep the illusion of the pastor being present, but the deployment costs are cheaper, as each person-in-the-pew would be outfitted with relatively inexpensive AR goggles, ear buds, and optional tactile gloves. This latter component is a kinda neat addition, as it would allow each participant to have the illusion of shaking hands with the pastor after the service, or even give a friendly Christian hug. This makes the approach more applicable to a) ethnic, or b) millennial-dominant churches, although presently there are no type b) churches extant, at least in North America. The goggles project the pastor, delivering the pre-recorded sermon, with AI-enhancement to provide context. This is especially useful so the virtual pastor can appear to navigate the unique churches where the recording would be played, without apparently running into objects that differ from place to place.

One of the more valuable enhancements that is also being added to the user experience is an embedded microphone in the goggles that can hear the sermon and translate it into most of the common languages, if the sermon language is not understood by the wearer. And, even more innovative, the message is passed, in real time, through a theological-correctness algorithm, and any suspect ideas will get noted, and some rebuttal info supplied — at the side of the field of view. Potential left-leaning heresy-rebuttal displays on the left. Right-leaning on the right. Funding is tight for this part of the project, however, so analysis and rebuttal of problematic right-wing theology is slated for a later release, if warranted.

In-home Pastoral Access Project

One of the most time-intensive parts of a pastor’s work-week is visitation, phone calls and general interaction with parishioners. Every pastor recognizes that a few members are “high maintenance” and expect almost 24/7 availability. This project also is pursuing two approaches, but they are complimentary.

1. An “Alexa-style” voice-recognition “personal assistant,” but one limited to handling pastoral or theological interaction. This is a small internet-enabled box, in the shape of a Seven, on a base. The synthetic voice, understandably, is male, with the wake-up command being “Dear Pastor,” followed by the question or complaint. Beta test is suggesting that most of the interactions so far are of the complaint variety, so creative responses have been the top priority of the AI cloud software used to respond. Early results are encouraging here, as most complaints easily fall into a few categories, well known to the pastor consultants on the project. And most of the developed responses can effectively just reflect back the original question, without actually giving any meaningful answer at all. Usually the questioner just wants a little pastoral hand-holding and is satisfied with this approach. But if that fails the algorithm moves to “theology mode” and gives responses replete with enough jargon so the questioner isn’t quite sure what the answer means, but is reluctant to enquire further, to avoid appearing stupid.

2. A Theological Q&A website. This project is designed to handle members who have been confused by aberrant theology and need orthodox answers. Dubbed “WebDMin,” this query website is intended to make the user feel that the interactive sessions are staffed by theological experts. Mostly, however, the responses are auto-generated from a database of stock responses. This is the theological equivalent of the first-tier tech support you encounter when one of your technology-based purchases malfunctions. In those calls the technician works from a canned script that usually first makes you reboot the device. Surprisingly, many religious inquiries have just such an analog, so real expertise need only be deployed if the user reaches a higher support tier. And the software, just like with secular product support, is designed to make it difficult to get that far.

Virtual Reality Evangelism

It is getting increasingly difficult to secure converts in modern society. It is also expensive, with costs like travel and lodging being mandatory to bring an evangelist in. This has been partly addressed using DVD-based presentations. But an exciting new possibility is being explored, although this project is still in the conceptual stage. Many moderns spend time within Virtual Realities, like Second Life. So why not do evangelism here? At minimum an evangelist would never need to travel, just work from in front of a computer screen. And possibly later he could be completely replaced with software automation. Evangelistic meetings would be held inside these virtual environments, and baptisms could result. And if you baptize avatars, this would be a whole new untapped field, like entering a previously “dark country.” It could swell global church membership dramatically! And the virtual converts would surely be as active in their churches as half the present book membership currently is.

Orthodoxy Detector Project

This project started later than some of the others but has recently been funded with a greater urgency in light of the move toward Compliance Committees. Indeed, resources have accordingly been moved here to assure timely delivery of an adequate product. Now, the Lie Detector machine has been around for many decades. But the modern version is highly modular, with the benefit that the analytical part (detecting the lie) can be separated from the physical sensing equipment. Then the analytical component can be replaced — and it’s mostly software anyway — with whatever result you seek to determine from the subject’s physiological reaction. In this case the goal is determining whether, and with what intensity, the subject is in agreement with the church’s Fundamental Beliefs.

The process is simple and outwardly identical to lie detection. The difference is that, with the Orthodoxy Detector, each of the 28 beliefs is read aloud to the subject and the reaction quantitatively measured and recorded. So, for example, as FB #6, Creation, is read aloud, the machine can sense not merely whether there is compliance or not, but the degree. So if a subject was fully compliant the meter would “pin” on the compliance side. And the mechanism is highly granular. So if words like “recent” or “six literal days” or “same unit of time” were what made the subject squirm, that would be detected in real-time. Obviously, this would make the task of reclamation easier, as the specifics of disagreement would be identifiable. The project developers, we are informed, have been working overtime in order to be ready for deployment in a series of planned events entitled Strategic Adventist Leader Evaluative Meetings (S.A.L.E.M.). Then once each level of leadership — most notably pastors — has been screened, the church can better assess the degree of unity we have, and work toward orthodoxy improvement goals. However, one of the more vexing problems facing the project is not technology, but staffing — getting competent software engineers to work for the denominational wage scale. As a consequence, the software is still pretty buggy.

In summary, there are a lot of exciting things happening. Leadership hopes to use technology to further three goals: stretch precious tithe funds, reduce the need for hiring more people, and enhance church unity. We say — Good Luck With That!

 

[DISCLAIMER: the above material is a complete figment of my imagination, and there is no evidence that any such things are taking place.

However…(hmm)…just because I made it up, is no guarantee that such things are NOT really happening! Perhaps I have stumbled onto something big: some Deep-GC plot to reshape and control. Not too big a stretch actually, you just have to recognize that conspiracies are all around us — and so carefully hidden from view that it is impossible to gather any hard evidence.

Now that I think of it, you would be derelict not to repost this material across every social media platform you inhabit! Just be sure to first remove this disclaimer, or the new readers might entertain some nagging doubts.]

 

Rich Hannon, a retired software engineer, is Columns Editor for SpectrumMagazine.org, and a pathological liar — most especially on April Fools’ Day!

 

Previous Spectrum columns by Rich Hannon can be found at: https://spectrummagazine.org/author/rich-hannon

Image Credit: SpectrumMagazine.org

 

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