Thanks to Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Metaverse, Martin Luther steps into the 21st century. An AI-powered, photorealistic 3D avatar of Luther will debut on Reformation Day, October 31, 2023, at 6 PM Central European Time, on the YouTube channel @ekirinternet. Link to live stream He will answer questions in the manner Martin Luther might have if he were alive today. Please note that the premiere will be in German.
On October 31st is Reformation Day. I published 95 theses on church reformation in the year 1517. But what do these theses mean today? You can ask me this and more live on YouTube. Join the chat on October 31st from 6 to 7 pm on the YouTube channel of the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland and ask me your questions.Translated transcription of the video
Technology in Use für the AI Avatar of Martin Luther
During the premiere on Reformation Day, questions will be sent to the Martin Luther avatar via the YouTube chat. These are passed on to ChatGPT, which has been trained to respond in the style of a 21st-century Martin Luther. Once the AI-generated answers are approved, they are converted into audio for the avatar using a text-to-speech engine. The avatar then performs corresponding hand movements in the Metaverse, captured by a virtual camera and broadcast as a YouTube livestream. Multiple technologies have been combined to realize this Martin Luther avatar in the Metaverse.
However, the use of large language models like ChatGPT poses various challenges and risks. Questions arise such as: Will the majority of answers be historically accurate? How well will the AI’s responses translate Luther’s thoughts to modern-day topics? Is there a risk of the AI producing hallucinated answers? Given that Luther’s views evolved over his lifetime, is this evolution reflected in the text corpus of the language model, and how will the AI reconcile a conflicting textual basis? To avoid unwanted responses from ChatGPT, we are currently implementing manual content filtering.
Historically Grounded Avatar
The Luther avatar is based on a Cranach painting of Martin Luther. XRhuman, using AI algorithms, transformed the painting into a photorealistic 3D representation of the reformer. While this technology is typically used to create avatars from selfies, it impressively worked with a historical painting. For Luther’s robe, a colleague was 3D scanned to serve as a double. Subsequently, the head and body were combined, resulting in an avatar that can move realistically within the Metaverse.
At the project’s inception, we delved deep into understanding Martin Luther to make the avatar as realistic as possible. One detail was Martin Luther’s height. Historical records and comparisons with his contemporaries suggest that Luther had an average height for his time. But how should this historical height be translated into the context of the 21st century, especially considering that people are generally taller now? After careful consideration, we chose a height fitting for the 21st century.
Luther’s Saxon accent was also considered. While it might have been intriguing to replicate this historical accent in the voice engine, we concluded that it might sound unfamiliar to modern ears and distract from the content. Thus, we decided against it.
The avatar should be clearly recognizable as Martin Luther, even if not every detail is historically exact. For instance, Martin Luther wears my robe with a a collar worn by clergy from a United church, distinct from those used in a Lutheran church setting. The backdrop for the YouTube live chat is a virtual replica of the Luther Church from Mülheim-Speldorf in the Metaverse. It seemed fitting for the AI reformer to give his pulpit speech in a church named after him, especially since three individuals involved in the project come from Mülheim an der Ruhr.
The Avatar’s Potential: Immersion
Of course, it’s speculative how Martin Luther would express himself today. But ChatGPT offers an interpretation of how Luther might have responded. The Luther avatar is an experiment aimed at making the Reformation’s message tangible for today’s audience. In the future, he could be utilized in religious education or confirmation classes.
For the premiere, we’ve chosen YouTube live chat as the platform, but the metaverse could offer a deeper level of immersion when the audience is also present within the metaverse. A lingering question is: Will individuals, during their interaction with the avatar, eventually forget that they aren’t conversing with the real Martin Luther, but an AI-driven representation?
Our project has centered around a historical Christian protagonist, Martin Luther. Our goal is to allow audiences to experience what Luther signifies for the 21st century. This avatar could serve as a valuable tool for classes of religious instruction. We’ve created this avatar from a painting that has significantly influenced perceptions of Luther in the Western world. However, the implications of this technology extend beyond just Luther. Consider the possibility of creating an avatar for Jesus. Unlike Luther, we don’t have a definitive image of Jesus to use as a starting point. This means constructing an avatar of Jesus without a foundational image. Venturing into this territory raises profound theological and ethical questions. Instead of encountering Jesus through Scripture, we’d be crafting our own image of Him. Details such as Jesus‘ skin color would be determined by software engineers or theologians, and many other decisions would be left to an AI that operates without full transparency. This inevitably prompts us to ask: Whose interpretation of Jesus would the avatar represent? In daily life, many ponder the question, „What would Jesus do?“ Now, imagine if they could directly ask a lifelike avatar of Jesus on their cellphone, „What would you do?“ As theologians, how should we approach and respond to such a possibility?
Before diving into these deeper theological waters and creating other avatars, we plan to gather more experience with the Martin Luther avatar, starting with its debut on Reformation Day.
Special thanks go to Andreas Droste, Vladimir Puhalac, Sascha Cramer and the team from the Communications and Media Office of the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland for their dedicated collaboration.
Supplementary Details: Modern Interpretation of Luther’s 95 Theses and Media Engagement
Example: Martin Luther’s 95 Theses in the 21st Century
In a world shaped by digitization, social media, and global challenges, how would Luther summarize his 95 theses today? The following example shows how the Luther avatar responded according to ChatGPT:
Today’s world is characterized by materialism and consumption. This reminds me of the time when the church sold indulgences. It’s easy to get lost in these things and forget the true meaning of life.
Social media can be deceptive. While they connect us, they can also create a distorted reality. It is important to stay genuine and not get carried away by these online personas.
The internet is a double-edged sword. There is so much information out there, and it can be difficult to know what is true and what is not. It’s like back when I wanted to make the Bible accessible to everyone. Everyone should be able to find the truth for themselves.
The Bible is still relevant, but we need to see it in the context of our time. It’s not about taking it literally, but understanding its message.
The church faces many challenges today. It needs to remain relevant while preserving its values. It’s not just about religion, but also about how it positions itself on current topics.
The internet can be used to do good, but it must be done responsibly. It’s easy to hide behind a screen, but that doesn’t mean you’re not responsible for what you say or do.
There are many different beliefs, but at the end of the day, we all have more in common than differences. It’s important to recognize that and work together.
And finally, the church should not shy away from difficult questions. It should be ready to deal with the issues of our time and take clear positions.Summary of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses by ChatGPT in the 21st Century
Reporting (in German)
- Research Forum Religion and AI on June 19, 2024 (online): Martin Luther as an AI-powered Real Life Avatar: Technical and Theological Challenges and Considerations
- RefLab Zurich on November 3, 2023: UPGRADE: How can the church benefit from AI?