Contributing editor Rabbi Rami ponders the Sanctified Theomorphic Operators of the future.
Let’s talk about robot clergy. To be clear: I’m referring to robots who function as religious clerics, not religious clerics who are robotic in their functions.
Take SanTO for example. The creation of Gabriele Trovato of Japan’s Waseda University, SanTO (the name stands for Sanctified Theomorphic Operator) is a robot pastor who looks like a devotional statue. SanTO is equipped with facial recognition and greets you by name when you draw near. SanTO’s purpose is to take confession and offer you an appropriate and consoling Bible verse when you have done so.
Or take BlessU-2, a Lutheran Robot who can bless you and share the fundamentals of Lutheranism with you in seven different languages. Created in 2017 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation, BlessU-2 has literally laid its robotic hands on and said blessings over tens of thousands of human heads.
SanTO and BlessU-2 may soon be as ubiquitous as Siri and Alexa. This may horrify you, but once a new technology is invented it is nearly impossible to stop it from spreading. Since robo-clergy are here to stay, let me offer two suggestions for the next generation of robotic religious whom, I assume, will be called iPadre-Pro.
- Given that BlessU-2 started life as an automated-teller machine, I would build on that feature so that along with a blessing, BlessU-2 would dispense a few dollars you could then distribute to the poor.
- A Jewish version of SanTO—RABB-i?—would be programmed to answer your question with a question: “RABB-i, is this sandwich kosher?” “Now you worry about keeping kosher? What about last week’s BLT?” Or “RABB-i, is it OK for me to study Zen?” “Zen? You’re asking a RABB-i about Zen? Go talk to my colleague Rosh-i if you want to know about Zen and the sound of one drive whirling.”
But Siri-ously, if robot clergy are going to replace human clergy, it is only fair that robot parishioners replace human ones. Here is what I have in mind: When you join a church, mosque, synagogue, or temple equipped with robot clergy, you should be given an iPad that is attached to a pew or prayer rug via a flexible stand. At the appropriate time, the iPad turns itself on, displaying your face and, as a customized version of iPray dictates, your iPad recites the required words, and sits, stands, or kneels via the flexible stand at the appropriate times. Robot worshippers won’t require hands because donations won’t be placed in a basket but transferred electronically via something inevitably called Pray-Pal.
Just so you know, I would definitely support this.