Robots, religion and communication
This chapter will discuss recent emerging developments with regard to artificial intelligence in the form of religious social robots made for interactions with humans that are increasingly popular. While religious leaders and actors have long influenced mechanization and the adoption of new technologies within churches and temples, the contemporary understanding of the communication practices with and through spiritual robotic agents is scarce. Artificial intelligence in the religious domain is an understudied area and social robotics in a non-Western context is narrowly understood. Moreover, the latest debates on the rise of artificial intelligence have rejuvenated concerns about the future of human labour, well-being and care. News stories produced in a global rush to cover the latest androids often stress their novelty, technical prowess, and potential to replace human labour, for example in the highly publicized cases of the Bless-U robot in Germany, the robot monk in China and the Buddhist funeral monk in Japan. While it has been proposed that “pink-collar” work in personal care and service sectors like priests and clergy are deemed to be among the lowest risks for job displacement from robots, how aspects of religious work is likely to resist automation and subject to mechanization is unclear and less understood. Hence, this chapter will first address the phenomenon of spiritual robots, tracing different emerging religious practices that are utilizing artificial intelligence to advance spiritual goals and missions. The chapter will then discuss a conceptual rationale for examining the role of communication with religious robots and discuss the implications of social robots for religious authority and community.