Robotic Religion

Robotic Religion December 30, 2019

I thought I’d share a recording of the lunchtime discussion I led on the topic of “Robotic Religion” as part of the Religion program at Butler University’s lunchtime discussion series Religion Matters. It focuses on the current situation we find ourselves in, and thus on robots between their use in factories (so familiar we rarely think about it) and as depicted in science fiction (which connects with all sorts of interesting questions, but so much so that we can focus all our attention there to the neglect of present and near-future concerns). Robots are everywhere today. Robots like C3PO and R2-D2 aren’t. Where are we now? What is automated? How much attention is being paid to the present and near future, as opposed to more distant future? And how does it relate to religion?

I tried to get things started with a question followed by another question. First, what did people turn to clergy for historically? Advice (jobs, marriage, raising children), counselling, wisdom. Biblical interpretation. Comfort.

I then asked what people turn to Google for. Isn’t it mostly the same things?

I also asked what Google is, and what Google gives us as results. The combination means we are really talking about websites made by humans (mostly) curated by algorithms.

Should we trust Google? I was surprised that those present, especially the younger among them, had not heard Google referred to as “all knowing.” We can also ask whether it is benevolent or wise.

There’s a lot more. Give it a watch or listen and let me know what further thoughts you have on this topic!

See also Steve Wiggins on an old movie you may have missed, and several other related posts from around the blogs:

Virtually Religious

Guest Post: Can humans be special in an age of AI?

Philosophy in Film

Aristotelian Tragedy in Black Mirror

Podcast Episode 3: William Jaworski on Hylomorphism and the Big Questions

Decade of Web 2.0 Decline

What social media platforms can learn from audience measurement: Lessons in the self-regulation of “black boxes”

Artificial intelligence identifies previously unknown features associated with cancer recurrence

A will to survive might take AI to the next level

Can an AI Fact-Checker Solve India’s Fake News Problem?

NASA Langley Research Center Chief Scientist on AI, Mars Colonization & Spaceflight

Best Screenplay Goes to the Algorithms: Learning to appreciate the future of literature

Digitizing Medieval Manuscripts

3-D Printing Is Helping Museums In Repatriation And Decolonization Efforts


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  • Have you ever read the short story “Reason” by Isaac Asimov? That’s the first thing your title made me think of.

    • Yes, it is probably my favorite of Asimov’s robot stories, not surprisingly given how it intersects not only with robots and religion but also design arguments and religious “logic.”

      • I first read it as a fundamentalist pre-teen, and it really made me think about those exact things. I was all, “Wow, I sound just like these robots. I’m not sure how I could refute them.”

  • arcseconds

    I am wondering about the possibility of automating more religion. Computers have relieved us of the burdensome calculations necessary to compute the dates of moveable feasts, Buddhists already have prayer-wheels to relieve the faithful of all that tiresome praying, but we seem far away from Electric Monks as depicted in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. Could we have smart watch apps suggesting a list of sins to confess to, or perhaps we could get animatronic wax dummies of famous preachers to preach at us, or possibly a bunch of android stand-ins?

    • I have a lot of thoughts related to some of the ideas and scenarios you mention, including a finished short story that I hope to publish…

  • Anna Shaw

    This s very interesting, and a topic with so much depth, my husband wants us to trial Bible software for children at home, but I worry about the impact of teaching faith through automated means. Does something get lost in the process?