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Thursday, August 13, 2009

What Robots Will Do To The Church

Robots. When I say "robots" a picture comes to your mind. Maybe R2D2 or C3PO from Star Wars. Or perhaps you are thinking along the lines of Austin Powers' "Fembots". :) Rosie -- the Jetson's housekeeper? The Bionic Woman? Maybe you are old enough to remember Lost in Space. Or possibly you're thinking of the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz.

Mostly likely though, you are thinking of something clunky, minimally communicative and you really aren't sure what use it might be. For most of us, robots are still something of science fiction.

Yet, I have observed a growing number of news articles about robots including this one: Robots are narrowing the gap with humans | McClatchy. The article reports:
"Nevertheless, robots guided by their own computer "brains'' now can pick up and peel bananas, land jumbo jets, steer cars through city traffic, search human DNA for cancer genes, play soccer or the violin, find earthquake victims or explore craters on Mars."
Nearly all of them suggest that robots are making substantial improvements in their artificial intelligence, ability to communicate, usefulness and over human like appearance.

Fashion robot to hit Japan catwalk
Technology Review: Making Robots Give the Right Glances
Yahoo! News - Human-like robot smiles, scolds in Japan classroom

So that of course gets me thinking about the church. What will robots do to and for the church? I recognize no one else is thinking about this and it seems even a little bit farther out than science fiction. But I suppose at some point in the future, there will be an intersect between robots and church culture. Eccleisabots. Churchbots. Pastorbots.

Use your imagination for a moment.

Some things are very easy to dream of. A robot that cleans the church. People already have cleaning bots. But the bots could also be programmed to tune all the worship team's instruments (including those with complex organs), perform security tasks, routine maintenance on building mechanicals, multimedia and computer back-up and maintenance, snow removal, lawn care,

Sure it would be expensive to own a robot but what if you leased them? Similar to your cell phone contract: 5 years, a couple of thousand dollars a month, upgrades included. You might already be paying that amount for maintenance already.

What if robots could not only be programmed to tune the worship team's instruments, but they actually became the worship team? The church's worship pastor could just program the songs. Oh right, we probably wouldn't need a worship pastor or we would share a worship pastor amongst several churches.

The same could be done for preaching. We could have a PreachingBot or SermonBot or HomilyBot. RoboPastor.

With preaching and worship leading, these are very easily attainable. Bots are on pace to become extremely lifelike in their look. You might not be able to tell if the musicians were human or bots. Once human likeness is accomplished, programming them to play music or speak words isn't difficult.

According to the McClatchy article, some scientists are speculating that artificial intelligence will catch up to human intelligence in the next 20-50 years. Even more recent articles are suggesting that machines may outstrip humans in their thinking capacity.

Scientists Worry Machines May Outsmart Man - NYTimes.com
Are we on the brink of creating a computer with a human brain? | Mail Online
Reuters AlertNet - Killer robots and a revolution in warfare

Maybe clergy will be replaced by robots altogether? But if they are not, robots will pose some other dilemmas. I'll write about those soon.

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