A ‘robot priest’ designed to teach prayer, sermons, and advise Catholic worshippers in the Polish city of Warsaw raises controversy about how science is advancing to replace man’s divine connection to God.
A BBC documentary released on Saturday, October 23, entitled “God and robots: Will AI transform religion?” It shows people inside Warsaw’s St. John Paul II Church interacting with a robot, loaded with information about religion in its memory bank to impart Catholic doctrine.
The Artificial Intelligence (AI) machine is called “SanTO,” an abbreviation for “Sanctified Theology Operator.” It has an image resembling a Catholic saint statue and was designed by Gabriele Trovato, an Italian robotics researcher, who said he decided to build it to help people pray.
Although the BBC presented the ‘Catholic robot’ as a new invention created by Trovato to assist believers in the COVID-19 pandemic, The Wall Street Journal reported in a March 2019 article, Trovato presented SanTO at a sacred art exhibition in Rome in February 2018.
“It was clear to me last year during the lockdown, when many people started to complain they couldn’t go to church, that a machine like SanTO could give a hand,” Trovato told the BBC.
The documentary, showed BBC reporter Sofia Bettiza and a woman asking questions of the robot, which is programmed to answer by quoting the Bible. Bettiza said parishioners were open to the idea of a “Catholic robot,” although most said they still “preferred a human priest,” Life Site News reported.
Meanwhile priest Slawomir Abramowski, said the robot or artificial intelligence could be used to help people understand the Church’s teachings, although he noted that not to replace the priest, because he has no soul. And when asked about whether he believed a robot could officiate at a wedding, he replied that this “is impossible.”
But controversies over AI in religion are not new. In 2016, a Buddhist temple outside Beijing controlled by the atheist Chinese Communist Party featured a “robot monk” chanting mantras and explaining tenets of religious doctrine, reported The Guardian.
In Kyoto, Japan, a robot named “Mindar,” covered in silicone to look more like a human and designed to resemble the Buddhist deity Gwan Yin, was placed in a 400-year-old temple.
Meanwhile, to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran reform of the Church in Germany, a “robot priest” called BlessU-2 was presented, which “blessed” believers in five languages: German, English, French, Spanish or Polish.
A machine with artificial intelligence without soul or spirit imparting religious doctrine in temples and “speaking of faith,” clearly shows the deterioration of religious institutions, which use limited human science in the spiritual field, interfering in the connection of the human being with God.