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Items of interest from various sources of religious news and opinion, in print and on the web.

New AI Apps Attempt to Summon Up the Dead. In an article for MIT Technology Review , Charlotte Jee reviewed several new apps that utilize artificial intelligence to let you “talk” to dead relatives. Apps such as HereAfterAI, StoryFile, and YouOnlyVirtual allow you to input data about deceased loved ones—such as audio and video files, emails, and text messages. From these, the apps construct virtual “people” with whom you can talk, or even video conference. Rapid advances in artificial intelligence have made these applications uncannily accurate, to the point that some users forget that they’re not talking to the real people. In many cases the technology seems to be outrunning the ethics, however, making many people uncomfortable. YouOnlyVirtual uses the tagline “Never Have to Say Goodbye”—but it’s not actually clear how many people want or are ready for a world like that. Grieving for those who have passed away is, for most people, one of the few aspects of life still largely untouched by modern technology. “People are extremely scared of death,” said entrepreneur Eugenia Kuyda, creator of Replika . “They don’t want to talk about it or touch it. When you take a stick and start poking, it freaks them out. They’d rather pretend it doesn’t exist.” Jee, Charlotte. “Technology that lets us ‘speak’ to our dead relatives has arrived. Are we ready?” Humans and Technology ., 18 Oct. 2022. Web. 17 Dec. 2022.

Biden Administration Declines to Take Transgender Fight to Supreme Court. The test case Franciscan Alliance v. Becerra was brought by a Catholic hospital system and the Christian Medical and Dental Associations, who view medical interventions designed to “change” a person’s gender to be harmful—contrary both to the best medical data about how to treat individuals struggling with gender dysphoria and to their religious understanding of sexuality and the human person. They therefore decline to perform such procedures, or to cover them in their insurance plans. In 2016, however, the federal government attempted to force them to do both. That year the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a rule that healthcare professionals and insurance plans must perform and insure gender transitions, or else face crippling penalties. Fortunately, religious-freedom law protects the ability of religious doctors and hospitals to take a different path. In 2021, a federal court in Texas struck down the transgender mandate as unlawful and permanently blocked the federal government from forcing the plaintiffs to perform or insure gender transitions. The Biden Administration—joined by the ACLU—appealed, but a unanimous Fifth Circuit affirmed—becoming the first federal appellate court to block the transgender mandate. And in December the Biden Administration let its deadline for appealing to the Supreme Court expire—meaning that healthcare professionals nationwide can now get back to their work without fear that the mandate will be applied to them. Davis, Joe. “Biden Admin Waives Supreme Court Review in Key Transgender Fight.” Articles ., 2 Dec. 2022. Web. 17 Dec. 2022.

Earth’s Magnetic Shift Used to Confirm Biblical Account of the Destruction of Gath. Gath was an important city of the Philistines in Bible times. The home of the giant, Goliath, Gath is estimated by some scholars to have had a population of over 10,000. Now a new scientific technique appears to confirm the biblical account (2 Kings 12:17) of the Syrian king Hazael’s destruction of Gath. The earth’s magnetic field shifts measurably from year to year, and when stones (or in this case, mud bricks) are heated to over 600 degrees Fahrenheit, that year’s magnetic “signature” is imprinted on them. Certain sites, whose destruction dates are known, provide “anchors” that can be used to reliably date other sites. Using such chronological anchors, archaeologists create a timeline. In this case they recorded the intensity and direction shown in mud bricks from 21 archaeological layers at 17 sites to discover exactly when each of these cities was destroyed. The team showed that several cities were destroyed around the same time — Tel Rehov, Horvat Tevet, Tel Zayit, and Gath. They suggest that all of these cities were destroyed by Hazael, fulfilling the prophesy of Elisha in 2 Kings 8:11-12, “I know the evil that you will do to the children of Israel: Their strongholds you will set on fire . . .” Fernandez, Elizabeth. “Earth’s magnetic field supports biblical stories of destruction of ancient cities.” The Past., 2 Dec. 2022. Web. 17 Dec. 2022.

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