Robots: the stuff of religion pt2

Not long ago, I blogged a few thoughts on robots and religion. I noted an old paper of mine and some contributions to the journal Material Religion (one from me). But perhaps you’re more interested in an in-depth conversation. Or perhaps you prefer listening to reading. Well, you’re in luck!

This past week, I appeared on the podcast How God Works, hosted by David DeSteno. The podcast has a wide variety of interesting conversations, so you might like to dig around there a bit. In my own case, I was paired (not simultaneously, alas) with Cynthia Breazeal of MIT. Dr. Breazeal is downright famous. I’ve been aware of her work in social robotics for 20 years, and I have lots of respect for her. You can see her groundbreaking work with the robot Kismet here and her more recent work here. So imagine my delight that not only was I invited to a very cool podcast, but that the conversation would be interlaced with Dr. Breazeal’s conversation also.

You can hear/download the podcast here.

There are lots of experiments in social robots as religious partners in one way, shape, or form. For example, Gabriele Trovato’s SanTO looks a lot like a Catholic saint icon and serves as a prayer guide and companion. Way back in my book Apocalyptic AI, I quoted CMU Robotics Institute professor David Touretzky on the need for religious literacy in eldercare robots. SanTO is a move in that direction. Along with SanTO, robots like Mindar and the Buddhist funeral robot based on Pepper have made headlines. Indeed, there’s a small cottage industry now in robots that can participate in religious activity.

Almost twenty years ago I started asking students in my Religion & Science class if they’d take a domestic robot with them to church/synagogue/whatever (assuming the robot can move around and interact in a human-like way with human beings). In the beginning, there’d be maybe one student out of 25 who would do so if the robot asked to come along. Nowadays, easily half the class shrugs the question off: “why not?”

So if you want to know what DeSteno, Breazeal, and I think might be interesting in the world of social, religious robotics, check out the podcast. I confess: I haven’t listened. I hate hearing myself on radio/tv/whatever. It’s just so awkward. I’d like to hear what Breazeal thinks, however, so eventually I’ll have to swallow my distaste for myself. đŸ™‚

p.s. image snagged from a Medium article that’s worth a look, and they got the image from Centro de AsesorĂ­a Pastoral Universitaria … ultimately it’s probably Prof. Trovato’s own image)

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