Unlike many of today's workers, priests probably thought their jobs were safe from automation. Well, they thought wrong. In Wittenberg, Germany, one church has taken to automating spiritual guidance, creating a new robot, called the Bless U-2, that offers robotic benedictions to its fleshy parishioners.
The "segensroboter", meaning "blessing robot", has a touchscreen chest and a preprogrammed "blessing movement". When activated, the robot lights up and raises its arms, saying, "God bless and protect you," in either a male or female voice. The blessing is available in German, Polish, Spanish, French or English.
BlessU-2 is part of an exhibit celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, beginning when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of a Wittenberg church in 1517, inciting enormous changes to the religious and political landscape of Europe. The robot isn't meant to replace human priests, its creators say, but spark debate about the role technology may play in religion.
"We don't want to robotise our church work, but see if we can bring a theological perspective to a machine," Stephan Krebs of the Protestant church in Hesse and Nassau told The Guardian.
At this point, BlessU-2 is more of a novelty than a symbol of divinity — and who knows what it'd start proselytising if hackers ever got their hands on it — but if religion and technology continue to intertwine, people should start getting comfortable. Besides, if parishioners find spiritual peace, does it matter if the minister is a robot or a human? In the immortal words of Futurama's Preacherbot: "Wretched sinner unit! The path to robot heaven lies here... in the Good Book 3.0."