Even in an age where artificial intelligence is steadily becoming more commonplace, there were still some jobs that were believed to be off-limit for robots. Daily, however, that perception is beginning to change and the discussion being had about Robot priests is proof of that.
Gone are the days where robots were seen to be restricted to monotonous jobs which would require little programming. With their capacities being expanded by the breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and machine learning, we have seen test robots rapping, playing games, Dj-ing and basically a wide range of things that were normally thought impossible for machines.
How far is too far? Should robots be allowed to do everything? Even be Priests? Well, religious tradition may indeed be challenged by robots in times to come or at least a robot priest in the small German town of Wittenberg seems to suggest that.
The robot priest was unveiled as part of an exhibition to mark the anniversary of the start of the Reformation. It is able to deliver blessings in five languages and beams light from its hands. It has a touchscreen chest, two arms and a head. For the past 10 days, it has offered blessings in a choice of German, English, French, Spanish or Polish and worshippers can choose between a male or female voice.
The Reformation was a Europe-wide religious, political and cultural upheaval that splintered Catholic Europe, setting in place the structures and beliefs that would define the continent in the modern era.
It seems like another era is in view and the idea of Robot Priests or in this case Germany’s Robot Priest, BlessU-2, is to trigger debate about the future of the church and the potential of artificial intelligence.
Stephan Krebs of the Protestant Church in Hesse and Nassau, which is behind the initiative, spoke to the Guardian, saying;
“We wanted people to consider if it is possible to be blessed by a machine, or if a human being is needed,”
“The idea is to provoke debate, People from the street are 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.”
Kreb’s, however, explained further that he was not expecting robot priests to take over from human priests or to help with Europe’s shortage of priests but that they were rather trying to “bring a theological perspective to a machine.”
BlessU-2 is not the first robot to penetrate the world of faith. Last year, a Buddhist temple on the edge of Beijing developed a robot monk that could chant mantras and explain the basic tenets of the religion to people.