BlessU-2 robotic pastor delivers blessings in seven languages as part of an interactive experiment associated with the World Reformation Exhibition in Wittenberg, Germany, developed to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
The Protestant Reformation triggered centuries of wars and discord in Catholic Europe led in large part by Martin Luther whose 95 theses challenged papal authority in Rome. Luther’s ethic can be summed up nicely by his famous quote:
You are not only responsible for what you say, but also for what you do not say.
So let us say that this experiment is theologically suspect. To be begin with, a machine has no conscience or soul and thus no dominion over those who believe they do. Blessings are not about words but the human condition and transcendence therefrom, at the heart of the Lutheran religion. Pastors are prized not only for their sermons and blessings but from keen knowledge of that condition in part by their own tribulations and as witness to the tribulations of their congregations.
According to a news release, BlessU-2 was created to “challenge people to consider the meaning of blessing and the increasing digitalization with artificial intelligence in the 21st century.”
What is most disturbing about this, again in context with Luther and his war against indulgences–payment to the Roman Church for prayers to liberate souls in purgatory–was the design of BlessU-2, “based on an ATM-machine … to facilitate financial transactions.”
Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine documents the impact of Lutheran theologians on understanding the conscience and human condition, the most interpersonal aspects of our existence on the planet. Here’s an excerpt from Dietrich Bonhoeffer who resisted Hitler and was executed at the close of World War II:
Conscience comes from a depth which lies beyond a man’s own will and his own reason and it makes itself heard as the call of human existence with itself. Conscience comes as an indictment of the loss of this unity and as a warning against the loss of one’s self. Primarily it is directed not toward a particular kind of doing but toward a particular mode of being.
Interpersonal Divide warns against the mode of being by machine. While BlessU-2 is an awkward example of that mode, it is only the start of a long technological history that will utilize artificial intelligence in matters of faith.