AI Robot Priests are Transforming the World of Worship
Sat, April 10, 2021

AI Robot Priests are Transforming the World of Worship

Robot priests powered by artificial intelligence are believed to become the face of religion, attracting devotees to join religious groups. / Photo by: lightfieldstudios via 123rf

 

Modern automation is poised to change the world because of the various platforms and improvements it brings. A study conducted by research firm Loup Ventures reported that the industrial robotics market is expected to grow by 175 percent over the next decade. The growth would be driven by collaborative, assisting robots in the market. The report showed that 34 percent of the industrial robots sold by 2025 would be collaborative—machines that are designed to work safely alongside humans in factories.

Another study projected that the collaborative robotics market will surge to a total revenue of $1 billion by 2020, with more than 40,000 cobots entering the industry. These robots have the potential to improve traditional processes, boost worker productivity, lower overall operating costs, and raise production efficiency. However, automation also means that industries won’t be needing more humans in their workforce.

According to BBC, a British free-to-air television news channel, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that about 1.5 million people in England are at high risk of losing their jobs to automation. Some of these jobs include waiters (73 percent), shelf fillers (72 percent), elementary sales occupations (71 percent), bar staff (71 percent), and kitchen and catering assistants (69 percent). 

"It is not so much that robots are taking over but that routine and repetitive tasks can be carried out more quickly and efficiently by an algorithm written by a human or a machine designed for one specific function," the ONS said.

Introducing AI Robot Priests

Robots will not only replace these jobs but also the leaders of churches. Robot priests powered by artificial intelligence are believed to become the face of religion, attracting devotees to join religious groups. 

Back in 2017, in honor of the Protestant Reformation’s 500th anniversary, Germany’s Protestant Church created a robot called BlessU-2. The Guardian, an online British site, reported that BlessU-2 could deliver blessings in five languages, namely English, German, French, Spanish, and Polish. It could also recite Bible verses with its “arms” raised lights flashing. People can also request a printout of these verses. 

Stephan Krebs of the Protestant church in Hesse and Nassau, which was behind the initiative, stated that they wanted people to consider if it is possible to be blessed by a machine. Indeed, the creation of BlessU-2 triggered a debate about the future of the church and the potential of AI. People who came to witness the robot doing its job were curious, amused, and interested.

“They are really taken with it and are very positive. But inside the church, some people think we want to replace human pastors with machines. Those that are church-oriented are more critical,” Krebs said. Even Pope Francis has shown interest in this. In January 2018, he sent a message to the World Economic Forum in Davos urging that AI, robotics. and other technological innovations be used to help contribute to the “service of humanity and to the protection of our common home.”

However, the researchers clarified that AI robot priests were not created as a solution to a Europe-wide shortage of priests. They believed that robots “could never substitute for pastoral care. We don’t want to robotize our church work but see if we can bring a theological perspective to a machine,” Kerbs added. 

This is not the first time that a robot was developed to penetrate the world of faith. In 2016, a robot monk was created by a Buddhist temple on the edge of Beijing. It was designed to chant mantras and explain basic tenets of the religion. Recently, SanTO, short for Sanctified Theomorphic Operator, was introduced to the public. The 17-inch-tall robot was created by roboticist Gabriele Trovato aimed at offering spiritual succor to elderly people whose mobility and social contact may be limited. 

Also, a 400-year-old temple in Japan has started using a robotic priest named Kannon. According to The Japan Times, Japan's largest and oldest English-language daily newspaper, Kannon was designed to preach sermons at Kodaiji temple in Kyoto. Tensho Goto, a Japanese priest, stated that they are hoping AI will grow in wisdom to help people overcome even the most difficult troubles.

“This robot will never die; it will just keep updating itself and evolving. That’s the beauty of a robot. It can store knowledge forever and limitlessly,” Goto added. 

 

The creation of BlessU-2 triggered a debate about the future of the church and the potential of AI. / Photo by: Daniil Peshkov via 123rf

 

Can AI Change Theology and Ethics?

The creation of AI robot priests shows that AI has developed to such an extent that people will put their faith in the hands of technology. Some people even believe that technology will eventually shape theology. Also, some are convinced that rather than seeking to join a human religion, AI itself will become an object of worship. In fact, engineer Anthony Levandowski has already set up the first church of AI called Way of the Future.

According to Vox, an American news and opinion website, Levandowski created it to “the realization, acceptance, and worship of a Godhead based on artificial intelligence (AI) developed through computer hardware and software.” This led some people to question if priestliness is truly an esoteric essence. There are also some questions about how robots will change our religious experiences.

Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired magazine and the author of “The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future,” said that the creation of AI robot priests would disrupt religion on an entirely new scale. The Atlantic, an online site that covers news, politics, culture, technology, health, and more through its articles, podcasts, videos, and flagship magazine, reported that this is because every single aspect of traditional theology would be challenged. 

Whatever the future brings, these robots are a great proof of how AI is continuously developing and shaping our society. Whether this would cause good or harm, people are showing great interest in these machines.