Hackers Try to Take AI to Church

Colorado “hackathon” inspires search for algorithms to help Christian congregations.

Nick Skytland likes to ask pastors a question.

“Have you ever considered that the biggest mission field in the world is nowhere in the physical world?” he will say.

“It’s actually the digital world.”

Usually when he asks that, the NASA chief technologist, whose day job is focused on getting astronauts back to the moon, just gets blank stares.

For a few days in October, though, Skytland was surrounded by people who do know the scope and scale of the digital world. And if they didn’t respond to him, it was because they were busy working with artificial intelligence programs to develop real-life solutions to take faith to the digital mission field.

About 200 people gathered at the tech company Gloo’s headquarters in Boulder, Colorado, for the first-ever “AI and the Church” hackathon. Gloo, which is dedicated to connecting and equipping the faith community, invited 41 teams to compete for $250,000 in prizes and $750,000 in additional funding. Skytland and a NASA colleague, Ali Llewellyn, cohosted the event.

The “hackers” worked on one of four challenges: streamlining church administration, equipping the church, deepening intimacy with God, and pushing “beyond boundaries.”

They lounged on couches and hunched over laptops at tables across the headquarters’ open workspace, part of an old building Gloo renovated and modernized. Some wore noise-canceling headphones, blocking out any distractions from their work. Others chatted and made new friends. Still others worked together on problems with their projects.

Basil Technologies’ team wrestled with the limitations of AI-generated illustrations.

The faith-based tech nonprofit, with offices in San Francisco …

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