In January 2023, at a time when the ChatGPT chatbot was gaining ground globally, a Bengaluru-based software engineer named Sukuru Sai Vineet introduced GitaGPT, writes Rest of World. Powered by GPT-3 technology, this AI chatbot offers answers based on the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, the foundational Hindu scripture consisting of 700 verses. Designed to mimic the speaking style of the Hindu deity Krishna, GitaGPT even addresses users with the soothing phrase, “What troubles you, my child?” in the search window.

According to Vineet, in the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna acts as a therapist for the hero Arjuna. The religious AI bot works in a similar way “except you’re not actually talking to Krishna. You’re talking to a bot that’s pretending to be him.”

At least five versions of GitaGPT were developed between January and March of this year alone, and more are expected. However, experts warn of the potential risks associated with chatbots taking on godlike roles. Some of the responses generated by Gita’s bots were found to have no safeguards against promoting casteism, misogyny and even illegal behavior. Three of these bots suggest that killing can be justified if it is in accordance with dharma or duty.

Viksit Gaur, a San Francisco-based entrepreneur and former head of user-facing AI at Dropbox, warns of the potential abuse of such technology. “But someone else might pick up on this and say, ‘What if I could use this to shape opinion and drive my own agenda?’ And that’s where things get really insidious. So there is a lot of scope for danger here,” says Gaur.

The ease of developing AI chatbots has increased significantly since OpenAI made its API publicly available at the end of November 2022. This allowed programmers and just interested people to create their own specialized chatbots with artificial intelligence.

Jaspreet Bindra, an AI researcher and author of The Tech Whisperer, a book on AI and other emerging technologies, noted that religion plays an important role in India. “Some of the best scholars of the Upanishads, the Gita, and various other texts that I encounter are hardcore software engineers or IT professionals. So I’m not surprised, and I’m sure there will be many more [chatbots] built on multiple religious texts.”

GitaGPT’s description claims that the chatbot provides spiritual guidance and deciphers life’s mysteries from Krishna’s perspective. One version even has the soothing sound of the flute, Krishna’s iconic instrument, in the background. Some of these chatbots answer 50,000 questions every day, and one of them has already generated around 10 million answers.

Bindra acknowledges that religious chatbots could potentially demystify religious texts like the Bhagavad Gita and make them more accessible. However, he also warns that they can be used to promote certain political or social agendas and may already show some political bias.