The Young Pope’s Pope Bot Is Trolling People With Bible Verses, Helped by IBM’s Watson

Meet Canal+'s papal artificial intelligence

Headshot of Angela Natividad

Fans of The Young Pope already know that Pope Pius XIII, played by Jude Law, isn’t cut from the same cloth as his predecessors. He’s seductive. He smokes.

And he might troll you on Twitter.

To draw more audiences to the less-than-pious new series about Pius, French network Canal+ launched “AiMEN.” Short for “Papal Artificial Intelligence,” this super-powered pope bot doesn’t just know all the verses in the Bible; it trots them out on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Dailymotion—whenever people need a little righteous reminding.

There’s plenty of conflict in The Young Pope, but most of it revolves around the character played by Law, an unusually young pope who may or may not succeed at modernizing Catholicism.

“The Young Pope is portrayed as a modern and different kind of pope, so it felt appropriate to give him an online tool that would put him in touch with the public in a real-time and contextual way,” BETC Paris co-creative director Arnaud Assouline tells AdFreak.

And the AI aspect of AiMEN is no joke. It’s powered by the same artificial intelligence that kicked Ken Jennings’ ass on Jeopardy.

“Given our ambition to monitor 1 million online comments, IBM and Watson were perfect ‘partners’ for a project of this size,” says co-creative director Benjamin Le Breton. “That partnership allowed us to develop AiMEN, a powerful bespoke tool.”

“We tried to figure out how [Pope Pius XIII’s] vision of the world, and his message, could fit into people’s lives,” adds Le Breton. “The end result allowed us to see how the AI reacted to real-time events, such as [soccer] games or political debates, when opinions can get heated.”

In addition to soccer and politics, the Pope even weighed in on a lady just trying to enjoy her pizza:

Talk about a holy buzzkill.

“AiMEN’s answers were increasingly relevant day after day,” Assouline says. “We programmed the AI this way to see if a machine could feel compassion, like a human. And even more, like a pope.”

According to both creative directors, AiMEN benefits from a natural language classifier powered with machine-learning algorithms, combined with a tone analyzer that uses linguistic analysis to understand the emotional context of conversations.

“It was also funny to see how a 2,500-year-old text, the Holy Bible, could still be relevant in our modern and hyperconnected world, and show its timelessness in contemporary issues,” Le Breton observes.

Per Canal+, “AiMEN” produced 1 million replies on social and reached 4 million people. The channel boasts that this is the best launch ever for a series in France.

For those with a healthy skepticism of the “Results” portion of a case study, don’t worry—Pope Pius XIII came to the rescue one last time.

Brand: Canal+
Brand Managers: Audrey Brugere, Jordane De Villaret, Christopher Marchand
Agency: BETC
Agency Managers: Guillaume Espinet, Elsa Magadoux, Alexis Delwasse, Peter Feurmour
Executive Creative Director: Stephane Xiberras
Creative Directors: Benjamin Le Breton, Arnaud Assouline
Art Director: Julien Vergne
Copywriter: Alexandre Girod
Lead Producer: Bao Tu Ngoc
Assistant Producer: Josselin Bondoin
Lead Producer: Bao Tu Ngoc
Head of Activation Strategy: Julien Leveque
Production Company: Make Me Pulse

@luckthelady Angela Natividad is a frequent contributor to Adweek's creativity blog, AdFreak. She is also the author of Generation Creation and co-founder of Hurrah, an esports agency. She lives in Paris and when she isn't writing, she can be found picking food off your plate.