Robot “priest” that can “bless” visitors unveiled in Germany

The “Bless U-2” robot was unveiled in Germany on May 20, as inventors intended to spark a debate with their “robot priest,” which features lights that beam from its hands and the ability to dispense “blessings” in five languages.

“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 robot. It was unveiled at an exhibition marking Protestantism’s 500th year in Wittenberg.

“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.”

Bless-U-2 has a touchscreen chest, a head, and two arms. Visitors to the exhibition can choose a male or female voice and request the robot to speak in either English, French, Spanish, Polish, or German. It recites passages from the Bible, and says, “God bless and protect you.” A printout of its words can be requested.

The robot is part of a theological discussion about Christian faith and artificial intelligence as technology continues to accelerate.

Kevin Kelly, a co-founder of Wired magazine, said in an interview with The Atlantic, “If you create other things that think for themselves, a serious theological disruption will occur.” He believes that if humans can create a “free-willed” entity, traditional theology would have to be reinterpreted and clarified.

Kelly is reportedly working on a statement of faith for robots in order to prepare for the day in the future when “these free-willed beings that we’ve made will say to us, ‘I believe in God. What do I do?'”

Mike McHargue, a self-described “Christian mystic” says AI’s “would draw out the ambiguities in the ways that many Christians have defined terms like ‘consciousness’ and soul.'” McHargue says that “non-human intelligence will present a greater challenge to religion and human philosophy than anything else in our entire history combined.”

Krebs says that the Bless-U-2 was intended to “bring a theological perspective to a machine.” He admits that the robot cannot offer a solution to the shortage of priests across Europe, and that it “could never substitute for pastoral care.”

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