Friday, June 2, 2017

Robot priests - not fake news

It's called BlessU2, a robot that offers words of blessings from the Christian tradition. John Daniel Davidson is less than impressed, In fact, he bemoans what a robot priest portends for Germany, where the robot was set up in Wittenburg Cathedral.
Meanwhile, Christianity is disappearing from the European continent. Two years ago, Damian Thompson noted in The Spectator that in the first decade of the twenty-first century, the number of Christians in Britain fell by 5.3 million, or about 10,000 a week. At that rate of decline, he wrote, “the mission of St Augustine to the English, together with that of the Irish saints to the Scots, will come to an end in 2067.”
That is the year in which the Christians who have inherited the faith of their British ancestors will become statistically invisible. Parish churches everywhere will have been adapted for secular use, demolished or abandoned. 
Our cathedral buildings will survive, but they won’t be true cathedrals because they will have no bishops. The Church of England is declining faster than other denominations; if it carries on shrinking at the rate suggested by the latest British Social Attitudes survey, Anglicanism will disappear from Britain in 2033. One day the last native-born Christian will die and that will be that.
The decline might be accelerating even beyond these dire projections. In January, the number of people attending weekly Church of England services dropped below one million for the first time ever, accounting for less than 2 percent of the population. Church attendance is now at half the level it was in the 1960s. Thompson argues the reason for all this is secularization—and not just secularization of the wider culture but secularization occurring within the church, with liberal pastors and clergy taking up whatever latest progressive cause comes across the transom. This is a familiar story in America, too, where mainline Protestant churches, whose chief concerns these days seem to be climate change and gay marriage, are going the way of the Church of England. If current trends continue, America’s mainline churches have only 23 Easters left before they’re empty.
This is not an unusual sight across Europe:

Back to the robot. It robot does bring up some interesting avenues for discussion of creator and the created. If we humans can offer others the blessing of Christ vicariously, does the robot offer the blessings of the priest vicariously? An imago in homine perhaps, rather than imago Dei? Can a robot be a means of grace? Is it even possible for a priest or pastor to act as a pass-thru of a blessing (from Christ thru the priest to the robot) or is the human agent as far as a blessing can go? Is this robot is an echo of the Tower of Babel - an attempt by part of the Church to take the place of the deity even if only in simulacrum? However, I am also reminded of what Andy Puzder, CEO of Hardee's/Carl Jrs' fast food chain,  said last year. He said that they were installing ordering kiosks with touchscreens in a large number of restaurants to see whether they were viable.
“They’re always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case,” says Puzder of swapping employees for machines. “Millennials like not seeing people. I’ve been inside restaurants where we’ve installed ordering kiosks… and I’ve actually seen young people waiting in line to use the kiosk where there’s a person standing behind the counter, waiting on nobody.”
See this, too. What will BlessU2 be like in 30 years when it is fully integrated with Artificial Intelligence and you can actually have an intelligent conversation with it that would seem indistinguishable from one with a real person? And ponder about a robot consecrating and serving Holy Communion. I am not saying it will happen, but, well, consider this:  Neuroscience will give us what we’ve sought for decades: computers that think like we do. I am glad I won't live to see it.

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