A robot priest which can deliver blessings in five languages was unveiled in an exhibition marking the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation, reports PTI.
The Reformation was a religious revolution which took place in the Church in the 16th century. It was sparked off when a German priest Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to a church door in the town of Wittenburg, Germany in 1517.
During the Reformation, the printing press played an important part when Luther's ideas spread in the form of cheaply printed booklets which were transported easily and swept the cities of Europe. Now 500 years later, another technology is looking to challenge the traditional notions of religion.
The robot, called BlessU-2, has a touchscreen chest which takes inputs. It also has two arms and a face. The face has moving eyebrows and eyeballs, a blue lit-up nose and an animated mouth.
For the past 10 days it has been offering blessings in a choice of German, English, French, Spanish or Polish, according to The Guardian. Once you select whether you want the blessings in a male or female voice, the robot raises its arms, flashes lights from its hands, recites a biblical verse and says: "God bless and protect you." The devotee also has a choice of printing out the blessing. A backup robot is available in case the primary one breaks down.
Interacting with the robot priest is similar to ordering a meal from a kiosk at a fast food chain. One puts in their inputs and the robot reacts accordingly. The robot is not actually controlled by artificial intelligence but is merely programmed to react to certain pre-determined inputs.
The Protestant church in Hesse and Nassau is behind the initiative. "The idea is to stimulate debate and thinking about the future of the church in a world full of electronic devices — all that with a twinkle in our eye," the Protestant Church's Volker Rahn told CNET.
He further said that "People who stop by are curious, amused and interested. They are really taken with it, and are very positive."
The Mirror reported Church spokesman Sebastian von Gehren explaining that the Church the decision to not give the robot a typical human appearance was a conscious one. He said that the reactions have varied greatly as "One half thinks it's great" while "the other cannot imagine a blessing from a machine."
The Guardian reported Stephen Krebs, a clergyman at the Church as saying that the Church considering feedback for further analysis but they did think that robots would solve the Europe-wide shortage of priests. A robot "could never substitute for pastoral care", Krebs said. "We don't want to robotise our church work, but see if we can bring a theological perspective to a machine."
BlessU-2 is not the first robot to enter the world of religion. In 2016, a Buddhist temple in China developed a robot monk that could answer 20 questions about Buddhism and its associated lifestyle. And in 2013, a humanoid robot called Isaac helped light a public San Francisco menorah on the seventh night of Hanukkah.
Updated Date: May 31, 2017 12:04:27 IST