The android Mindar (Kannon, a god in the Buddhist tradition), Pepper the funeral robot, and suggestions for robot Catholic priests are just some of the examples of recent attempts to automate religious acts that we have highlighted at Mind Matters News. An artificial Jesus, sputtering verses from the King James Bible, also exists.
In particular, high expectations have been placed on Mindar to discover a wealth of information and find answers to everyone’s concerns.
While robo-religion is often introduced to fight dwindling adherence, many of us have just believed that it would not sit well with the truly dedicated. Yet such a comprehensive examination has not been conducted. At last, somebody has.
University of Chicago Booth School of Business behavioral science professor Joshua Conrad Jackson researched the effects of robotics and AI on believers. In their open-access work for the Journal of Experimental Psychology, he and his co-authors found that the skeptics are correct.
Using a natural experiment in a recently automated Buddhist temple (Study 1) and a fully randomized experiment in a Taoist temple (Study 2), we consistently show that religious adherents perceive robot preachers—and the institutions which employ them—as less credible than human preachers. This lack of credibility explains reductions in religious commitment after people listen to robot (vs. human) preachers deliver sermons. Study 3 conceptually replicates this finding in an online experiment and suggests that religious elites require perceived minds (agency and patiency) to be credible, which is partly why robot preachers inspire less credibility than humans.
Engagement was found to be lower while using Mindar, Pepper, or an AI-composed Christian sermon in their research. Surprisingly, the AI sermon was nearly spot on:
While participants said they believed human preachers were more credible, it was still a close contest with the robots. On a scale from one to five, with five being most credible, the robot preachers received an average credibility rating of 3.12, compared with 3.51 for human preachers. – , “Will intelligent robots soon be able to serve as rabbis?,”Jerusalem Post, July 26, 2023
It’s reasonable to assume that frequent exposure to AI sermons will lower participation even more over time because AI merely blends human activity, empty of personal experience.
Unlike human religious elites, who profess a deep commitment to faith that leads to sacrifice of time and material goods, robots are simply programmed to give sermons or blessings without an authentic understanding of, commitment to, or suffering for their religious group, as Jackson told Judy Siegel-Itzkovich of the Jerusalem Post.
That’s right, and I’m sure there’s more to this than meets the eye. That the robot/AI can’t have mystical insights is only part of the problem. No one can make it do that, and the designers certainly weren’t considering that possibility when they made it. The robot’s function is analogous to that of a robotic ice cream machine; both are designed to produce the desired final product. The listener must supply the connection between the procedure and the supernatural.
In contrast, if a human preacher claims that he was saved from the pit of addiction thanks to a supernatural encounter, we can assume that his salvation was real. Whether we come away with faith or skepticism after his transformative experience is up to us. However, processing spoken language is only one factor in how we react.
In the Christian faith, for instance, the preacher’s very life serves as the message. For one minister, “what a congregation is looking for when listening to a sermon is evidence that the pastor has been with Jesus.” There can never be a sermon that can persuade people to accept Jesus since AI will always have to take someone else’s words for it.
Siegel-Itzkovich argues that rabbis are responsible for determining the legitimacy of robo-rabbis in Jewish law. She thinks they’ll reject her proposal. It would be prudent for them to. It’s only reasonable for followers of any faith to respond to being instructed by robots in human rituals by quietly replacing themselves with androids at the usual gathering location.
You may find this related article interesting: Could robot priests reverse religion’s decline? Numerous Christians are emphatic about that. That’s the view of some Buddhists, at least. What are the prerequisites for a pastor? Perhaps it all boils down to our conceptions of and expectations for an ultimate reality.