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German Church Sponsors Development Of “Robot Priest”

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German inventors have developed a “robot priest” which dispenses “blessings” in five different languages and beams light from its hands, a machine some say is intended to fuel debate about artificial intelligence and Christianity’s future, the Christian Post reports.

In Wittenberg — the same city where Martin Luther released his ‘Ninety-five Theses ‘ to the door of a church launching the Reformation in 1517 — this robot was unveiled as part of an exhibition marking Protestantism’s 500th year.

The “Bless U-2” robot has a touchscreen chest, a head, and two arms. Since the exhibition opened on May 20, visitors can select whether they would like Bless U-2 to speak in a male or female voice in English, French, Spanish, Polish, or German.

“We wanted people to consider if it is possible to be blessed by a machine, or if a human being is needed,” said Stephan Krebs of the Protestant church in Hesse and Nassau, which is sponsoring the initiative, in an interview with the Guardian.

Bless U-2 recites passages from the Bible, and says “God bless and protect you.” If requested, it will provide a printout of its words. A backup robot is available in the event of a breakdown.

“The idea is to provoke debate,” Krebs continued. “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.”

While robots that offer blessings may seem strange to many, conversation about the intersection of the Christian faith and artificial intelligence is indeed already happening as robotics and new-fangled technology continue to accelerate. And theological questions are mounting.

Krebs said robots like Bless U-2 “could never substitute for pastoral care,” noting that he also does not view them as a solution to the shortage of priests across Europe. He and his colleagues insist they want to “bring a theological perspective to a machine.”

 

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