New use of robots in religion is more important than you think

Zach Murphy, Contributing Writer

Throughout history, religion and many other human institutions have developed alongside technical growth. Whether it be the printing press or television, religious leaders adapted to the changing landscape of human communication and expression with the hopes of gaining and retaining followers. Recently, various religious institutions have employed a new wave of robots to assist the role of the spiritual leader by guiding and comforting followers through difficult moments of life. With the rise of artificial intelligence, many wonder if it is a good idea to have robots perform the tasks traditionally done by humans. While this is a valid concern, there are significant benefits to having such robots employed by religious institutions.

 

I was raised in the Catholic faith and as a child, I often had to undergo confession. In basic terms, confession entails telling a priest, in some cases face to face, what sins and wrongdoings one committed since their last confession. Everything from stealing a pencil to murder must be told, and for many, this process is uncomfortable, which is in part why some Catholics do not perform the confession at all. The telling of one’s wrongdoings is hard already, but doing so in front of a respected spiritual leader makes the process even harder. Even though priests are held to confidentiality regulations enforced by the Vatican and protected by the First Amendment, there is still a level of discomfort with telling one’s sins to another human, regardless of how confidential the confession is. Thus, the use of robots in these cases may actually be beneficial.

 

While not every faith has a confession-like component that Catholicism has, every faith has followers with serious and often personal questions. These questions can range from sexuality to death and many other sensitive topics. While the vast majority of spiritual leaders are responsible and thoughtful enough to answer these questions, robots can help by taking the other human out of the equation. If a follower has a question about a relationship or a current challenge but does not want another human to know, a robot can help by providing the appropriate scripture and a brief interpretation to help guide the follower towards happiness. Religion is significantly social, yet there is also a significant personal aspect that many often forget. With robots, there is the right balance between solidarity and interaction that can help a person explore their spirituality more.

 

Naturally, there are problems with the use of robots in religion. These problems can range from privacy to the machine’s effectiveness. Although these problems do deserve attention, they should not disqualify the notion that machines can be adopted into religious teaching. I do not think that robots will gain converts or make religion powerful, but I do think that they can provide more comfort and even happiness to people who may not want human interaction at the time. Just like the technological advances before them, robots will not go away, and so long that they are here and used responsibly, I do not see any problem with their use in religious teaching and practice.

 

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