Seniors in search of some high-tech companionship may find comfort in a small robot that can listen to them and read relevant scripture.
SanTO is a foot-and-a-half tall robot resembles the sort of altar or figurine a Catholic may use to decorate their home. But it’s equipped with software it uses to listen to people, scan their faces for signs of specific emotions, and select religious texts that may be relevant to their troubles, according to The Wall Street Journal — heralding a new marriage of religion and technology that challenges who, or what, can influence a person’s faith.
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When Waseda University roboticist Gabriele Trovato designed SanTO, he was warned by religious leaders to not let AI interpret scripture, just recite it, the WSJ reports.
“They said there is a human factor which is very important in the communication of faith,” Trovato told the WSJ. “Even choosing the right text, the right part of the Bible, is not something you can do easily.”
When Trovato told SanTO that he’s worried about the future, for instance, the robot recited a Bible verse about taking life one day at a time.
As robots and AI technology improves, both have become increasingly intertwined with religion — robots are delivering sermons, the pope is endorsing apps, and people are praying to robotic statues of Buddhist deities.
But while Trovato told the WSJ about how his little robotic idol could help spread religious ideas, it seems far more useful as a buddy for the lonely and elderly, not unlike a robotic dog or other sorts of high-tech companions.
“It is interesting to focus, to study, how this change of the medium is influencing the relation of people with God and the activity of religion,” Travato told the WSJ.
READ MORE: Deus Ex Machina: Religions Use Robots to Connect With the Public [The Wall Street Journal]
More on high-tech religion: Microsoft’s President Met With the Pope to Talk About Ethical AI