Sermon-giving ‘robotic priest’ arrives in Poland to support faithful during pandemic
A robotic priest that delivers sermons, gives advice and accompanies the faithful in prayer has been introduced to Poland.
The brainchild of Gabriele Trovato from Tokyo’s Waseda University, the robot named SanTO has been a year in the making and is now being trialed in the capital Warsaw.
Trovato said: “The need to build such a robot became clear to me when I listened to friends who complained that they could not go to church during the pandemic.
“For such people, a robot with artificial intelligence, such as "SanTO", would be an ideal solution.”
Using Artificial Intelligence, SanTO has been specially programmed to meet the needs of Catholics after being uploaded with a memory bank of information about the religion.
Church-goers have so far been open-minded with parishioner Urszula Rybińska telling the BBC: “The robot would not answer my question directly, but he did reply with words that I thought were quite relevant.”
Another added: “Anything that brings you closer to God is a good thing”, while worshiper Joanna Ruktowska likened the robot to “a Catholic Alexa” saying: “You’re not asking for the closest restaurant, you’re asking him something spiritual, but he can help you find your own answer.”
Father Sławomir Abramowski of St. John Paul II Church in Bemowo, said: “I think we can use AI to help understand the bible’s teachings – but never to replace priests as a robot has no soul.”
With fewer people than ever studying to become priests, and with the Coronavirus also putting a strain on the church and accessibility of its services, robots have been touted by many as the answer.
But even preceding the pandemic, AI had already become the subject of debate in religious circles.
To celebrate 500-years of the Reformation, the Germans unveiled a robot called BlessU-2 in 2017. Programmed to speak in German, English, French, Spanish and Polish, the robot caused as many headlines for his bizarre appearance as he did for his ability to preach.
Elsewhere, a digital rabbi has been developed, and so too a robotic Buddhist monk by the name of Mindar.
Muslims have also embraced technology, notes the report, with millions downloading an app to facilitate prayer.