Friday, June 15, 2018

IEEE Spectrum: "Can A Robot Be Divine?"

       The aforementioned article looks at the use of robots as a useful part of religious worship. From the article:
       We’ve seen a few examples of robots assisting in religious tasks, but what if robots could take things a step farther, and become sacred objects, embodying divinity within a robot itself? 
        At the ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human Robot Interaction (HRI) in March, Gabriele Trovato from Waseda University in Japan (with colleagues from Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú) presented a paper taking a look at whether divine robots might be possible, and why it could be useful to develop such robots in the first place. ...
The author of the article wants to make clear, however, that we understand that Trovato's paper is theoretical and only "attempts to develop guidelines for the design of robots with a religious aspect to them." However, it is interesting to look at what he believes are the advantages of a religious robot:
The appeal of a theomorphic robot, the researchers hypothesize, is as follows:
  • Accepted favourably, because of its familiar appearance associated to the user’s background culture and religion
  • Recognized as a protector, supposedly having superior cognitive and perceptual capabilities
  • Held in high regard, in the same way a sacred object is treated with higher regard than a common object 
There is some existing precedent for theomorphic robots, which goes back to early examples of automation applied to religious ceremonies. More recently, there have been attempts at using robots in religious contexts, like Pepper assisting in Buddhist funerals or Xian’er, a robotic Buddhist monk. Both of these robots, though, are more like assistants, and they themselves are not inherently theomorphic: A theomorphic robot is more of a representation of the divine, which implies “a connection with a deity, be[ing] a messenger of the deity, or be[ing] possessed by it, or carry[ing] a divine essence.”
(Brackets in original). Trovato makes some suggestions as to how to make such a robot,  with the first rule being that "[t]heomorphic robots shouldn’t try to fool anyone about what they are—they’re tools or intermediaries."

       Notwithstanding the supposed theoretical nature of his paper, the article notes that Trovato has created a couple prototypes: "a Christian Catholic robot with the appearance of a saint, which will be used for catechesis under the guidance of the Catholic Church, and ... a robot with the appearance of a traditional Japanese Daruma doll, designed to keep company and monitor the health of Japanese elders."

       Of course, all of this brings to mind Revelation 13:15, which relates:
And he [the false prophet] had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.

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