Dear Noble Robo-Witness,

Today is September 2, 2019, and it is Labor Day in the United States.  Specifically, this is the day when HUMAN workers are traditionally allowed to rest from their daily work or labor.  Most unfortunately, however, there are now various humanoid (“human-like”) robots working on the U.S. Labor Day, in various places of the world.  It is bad enough when such MACHINE workers replace HUMAN workers on a factory production line.  Within the last few years, however, HUMANOID ROBOTS have begun to REPLACE HUMANS as PRIESTS!

Most disgustingly for True Believers in God, there is now a German “robot priest” called BlessU-2!  This strange-looking robot priest is especially relevant for us, today, because, as Harriet Sherwood, a Religion correspondent for THE GUARDIAN has explained, BlessU-2 is, “. . . intended to trigger debate about the future of the church and the potential of artificial intelligence.”  (See https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/may/30/robot-priest-blessu-2-germany-reformation-exhibition.)  The robot priest was first shown in 2017, as part of a special exhibition in Wittenberg, Germany, to mark the passage of 500 years after Martin Luther’s radical call to reform The Church, across the Continent of Europe.

BlessU-2 has a touchscreen in its chest, and it can raise its arms, flash lights in the palms of its hands, and recite verses from the Bible in five different languages.  The robot allows worshippers to choose between either a male or female voice, and it declares, to all of them, “God bless and protect you.”  Stephen Krebs of the Protestant Church was behind the initiative.  “We wanted people to consider if it is possible to be blessed by a machine, or if a human being is needed,” he explained. “The idea is to provoke debate.  . . . . . People from the street are curious, amused and interested.  They are really taken with it, and are very positive.  But inside the church some people think we want to replace human pastors with machines.  Those that are church-oriented are more critical.

Krebs and his colleagues deny that they are seeking to “solve” the problem of a shortage of priests, across Europe.  He defended his most unusual and Humanity-Challenging “Robo-priest,” BlessU2, by stating that a robot, “could never substitute for pastoral care.  We don’t want to robotize our church work, but see if we can bring a theological perspective to a machine.”

As Expected, Japan Has “Robot Priests,” Too!

“It seems as if there is literally no job that is safe from the rising tide of automation, including those who guide us into the afterlife,” moaned Mike Murphy, author of the August 23, 2017, article, Robots in Japan are now Buddhist priests.  He was referring, of course, to the very popular (and nearly ubiquitous), Softbank’s robot, Pepper.  “Pepper has tried its hand at a range of jobs so far, including store greeter, home companion, marketeer, and waiter.  But with its high-pitched and robotic voice, Pepper sounds more like something you’d expect to hear in the background of a Radiohead song[,] than at the services to reverently send off those who have died.  (Perhaps Pepper should leave funereal rites to other, more qualified robots.)”  Take a few minutes and watch the related video, showing Pepper as a “Priest”!  It is titled, Can A Robot Be A Priest?, which  is available for viewing at youtube.com.

As far as I am concerned, I wonder (as an American), why any sane person would like to have some robot – – rather than a real human being – – carry out the Final Rites at his or her own funeral!  Most recently, on August 30, 2019, I was watching The Ingraham Angle on Fox News Network.  A special feature was shown as, Mindar, The Robot Buddhist Priest.  – – A ROBOTIC CLERGY?  This TV show was preceded (on August 14, 2019), by Japan Temple:  Robot Takes Over Role As Buddhist Priest (https://www.technocracy.news/japan-temple-robot-takes-over-role-as-buddhist-priest/).

This article talks about the humanoid robot, called Mindar.  “A 400-year-old temple in Japan is attempting to hot-wire interest in Buddhism with a robotic priest it believes will change the face of religion – – despite critics comparing the android to ‘Frankenstein’s monster.'”  Much more terrifying, I feel, is the strong connection of Mindar to AI:  “. . . its human colleagues predict that with artificial intelligence it could one day acquire unlimited wisdom.  ‘This robot will never die, it will just keep updating itself and evolving . . . That’s the beauty of a robot.  It can store knowledge forever and limitlessly.  With AI we hope it will grow in wisdom to help people overcome even the most difficult troubles.  It’s changing Buddhism.'”  

However, the authors of this article describe the physical appearance of Mindar with considerable consternation!  They say that the humanoid robot is the size of an adult, and can move its trunk, arms, and head.  “But only its hands, face and shoulders are covered in silicone to replicate human skin.  Clasping its hands together in prayer and speaking in soothing tones, the rest of the droid’s mechanical parts are clearly visible.  Wiring and blinking lights fill the cranial cavity of its open-top head and snake around its gender-neutral, aluminum body.  A tiny video camera installed in the left eye, completes an eerie, cyborg-like frame seemingly lifted straight out of a dystopian Hollywood sci-fi thriller.”

The Japanese Versus The U.S.:  “Westerners have compared it to Frankenstein’s monster”

The still-human Japanese priest, Tensho Goto, emphasizes that Mindar was developed to help re-capture the attention of Japan’s young people towards religion:  “It might be difficult [for them] to relate to fuddy-duddy priests like me, but hopefully the robot is a fun way to bridge that gap.  We want people to see the robot and think about the essence of Buddhism.  . . . . The goal of Buddhism is to ease suffering,”

Among Japanese visitors to the Robot Priest, many expressed surprise at how “human” it looked, and about how the the robot “. . . made me think deeply about right and wrong.”  Other Japanese, however, were less convinced, some of them insisting that the robot was too “fake,” and that, “The robot’s expressions felt too engineered.”

Enter “Frankenstein’s Monster.”  The Japanese temple with its Mindar, the Robot-Priest, however,  “. . . has also faced criticism – – mostly from foreigners – – for tampering with the sanctity of religion.”  Goto, the Japanese priest, remarked that, “Westerners have been the most upset by the robot.  It could be the influence of the Bible, but Westerners have compared it to Frankenstein’s monster. Then Goto’s further attempt at explanation follows a distinct intercultural comparison between Japanese society, and our Western society:  Japanese people don’t possess any prejudices against robots.  We were brought up on comics where robots are our friends.  Westerners think differently.

I found extremely interesting, Goto’s self-congratulating response to an accusation of sacrilege, made by the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, during his recent visit to the Japanese Temple.  “Obviously a machine doesn’t have a soul.  But Buddhist faith isn’t about believing in God.  It’s about following Buddha’s path, so it doesn’t matter whether it is represented by a machine, a scrap of iron or a tree.” 

Finally, I found the Japanese human priest’s last comment the most terrifying of them all!  Artificial intelligence has developed to such an extent we thought it logical for the Buddha to transform into a robot.  We hope it will touch people’s hearts and minds.”

MY CONCLUSION AND A WARNING FOR MANKIND!

In conclusion, I really must confess that I was definitely NOT (unlike, apparently, many Japanese) “brought up on comics where robots are our friends”!    Quite the contrary, I have delved into deep study of such anti-AI “warning books” as, OUR FINAL INVENTION:  Artificial Intelligence And The End Of The Human Era, by James Barrat (2013).

Please allow me to bring into our final Conclusion, just a few of the relevant comments from OUR FINAL INVENTION.  In particular, I want to bring in the often-neglected fact that there is a shockingly naive and extremely “danger-blind” Technological Utopia held in the imaginations of many computer scientists and roboticists, throughout the World!   Such Technological Utopianism also (apparently) seems to exist within the majority of the Japanese!  

This apparent Technological Utopianism, according to Barrat’s excellent expose, may well reflect a widespread isolation of workers in the AI and robotics fields, and a severe Technological Blindness, that simply REFUSES to RECOGNIZE the Grave Concerns held by MANY more concerned experts from the majority of other Academic, Scientific, and Religious Fields in our society!

Let us quote some of the supporting observations noted in Barrat’s Critical Book:  “In August 2009 in California, the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) brought together a group to address the growing public fears of robots running amok, loss of privacy, and religious-sounding technological movements.  ‘Something new has taken place in the past five to eight years,’ said organizer Eric Horvitz, a prominent Microsoft researcher.  ‘Technologists are providing almost religious visions, and their ideas are resonating in some ways with the same idea of the Rapture. . . . My sense was that sooner or later we would have to make some sort of statement or assessment, given the rising voice of the technorati and people very concerned about the rise of intelligent machines.'”

“But despite its promise,” Barrat continues, “the meeting was a missed opportunity.  It wasn’t open to the public or press, and machine ethicists and other thinkers working in risk assessment were all left out.  Only computer scientists  were invited to the discussions.  That’s a little like asking race car drivers to set urban speed limits.”

In closing, Dear Robo-Witness, I hope that YOU can now SEE the GRAVE DANGERS  associated with the now TOTALLY-UNCONTROLLED, EVER-FASTER ACCELERATION AND NEARLY INFINITE, COMING “INTELLIGENCE EXPLOSIONS” OF AI!  A few Buddhist priests and Japanese NOW HAVE such a FOOLISH DISREGARD FOR THE GREAT EVIL ABOUT TO OVERCOME THOSE WHO TRY TO “WORSHIP” USING ROBOTS WITH AI!  Unless the rest of us are much more cautious and conservative about implementing AI, MANKIND’S FUTURE EXISTENCE AND WELL-BEING, I am afraid, are VERY MUCH in doubt!