In March 2020 the first Global Missional AI Summit will be taking place in Bangkok, Thailand. As it approaches, James spoke to Daniel Whitenack, one of the conference organisers to find out more about the event. Daniel is a data scientist, building AI tools with SIL International, and co-hosts the Practical AI podcast.

James Doc (JD): Missional AI? How did you come to the idea of hosting this conference?

Dan Whitenack, co-organiser of the Missional AI summit

Daniel Whitenack (DW): I was working for an artificial intelligence and machine learning startup in California. As I was taking these steps, I started exploring it I started thinking; how can I use these tools for global missions and cross cultural ministry?

This was almost 2 years ago, as I was working I got thinking - the AI tools that I’m working on link so closely to Bible translation… but how can I join in? Who is doing it? This was hard for me as an AI person, I had the skillset, but wasn’t really sure where to start or even knew who was interested in this space! I ended up getting connected with SIL International and Steve Moitozo, Steve has this great job title in a ministry - Chief Innovation Officer. I joined his team and we started an innovation initiative seeking to expand AI possibilities for low resource languages, like those in need of Bible Translation.

For the next year there, I connected with anyone I could in ministry and AI, asking what is happening, what are they interested in, what they were they not interested in!. I was persistent! I got connected with a ton of people. I had no idea how many people there were working in ministry and AI. There are people building chatbots for targeted outreach, people modeling spiritual discipleship, teams using machine learning in Bible translation…

It blew my mind, all these different people. They were all doing amazing things, but no one was talking to each other. For example, people were asking about building chatbots for evangelism, but didn't know that others were asking the same questions trying to do the same thing.

After these conversations it became evident that there needed to be a gathering. There are stories, skills, challenges, that are relevant, that need to be shared. There are tech people like me who are interested in coming, who want to explore a missional output of AI. That's the genesis. That’s where the idea started.

JD: Give me a snapshot of what to expect from the three days…

DW: The conference is going to a great mixture of practical and discussions- we’re going to have workshops that cover everything from AI fundamentals through to exploring personalisation and spiritual state modeling, there will be keynote speakers, chaired panels. The key thing is to get people learning and talking. We want to form the groups around chatbots or translations to get people together, talking. Each group will have a champion, to facilitate the conversation at the conference, but also to resource people to keep on talking after the event.

Screenshot of Global Missional AI Summit Website

JD: That’s amazing! So who do you want to come?

DW: I think that there are three core groups that we’re looking to be in the room. First; it’s the people who are already exploring this intersection - those who are already using AI in missions, perhaps they work for a ministry, or are working on a side project. Secondly, we’re looking to bring together the missions workers who are interested in AI, but don’t know where to start. Thirdly, those who are working in AI but don't know how to connect it to missions; people who were where I was two years ago, those with the skills and the heart for the work, but don’t know where to begin.

If you the kind of person who feels the urge to apply your effort to global missions, you see the opportunities that AI/ML and technology has please please sign up to come. If you have a heart for missions and AI skills, there are wide open opportunities for you to use your skills.


The Global Missional AI Summit is taking place on March 26-28, 2020 in Bangkok, Thailand. Registrations are open now. There are already a couple of the Kingdom Code community booked to attend. You can apply to attend at missional.ai.

James Doc

James Doc

James lives in London, writes code, designs things and drinks tea.

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