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Robot priests can bless you, advise you, and even perform your funeral

What’s more, Buddhism’s non-dualistic metaphysical notion that everything has inherent “Buddha nature” — that all beings have the potential to become enlightened — may predispose its adherents to be receptive to spiritual guidance that comes from technology.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s represented by a machine, a piece of scrap metal, or a tree.” “Mindar’s metal skeleton is exposed, and I think that’s an interesting choice — its creator, Hiroshi Ishiguro, is not trying to make something that looks totally human,” said Natasha Heller, an associate professor of Chinese religions at the University of Virginia.

She told me the deity Kannon, upon whom Mindar is based, is an ideal candidate for cyborgization because the Lotus Sutra explicitly says Kannon can manifest in different forms — whatever forms will best resonate with the humans of a given time and place.

What we do have is a pervasive cultural narrative, reinforced by Hollywood blockbusters, about our impending enslavement at the hands of “robot overlords.” Plus, Abrahamic religions like Islam or Judaism tend to be more metaphysically dualistic — there’s the sacred and then there’s the profane.

In hospice settings, elderly Buddhists who don’t have people on hand to recite prayers on their behalf will use devices known as nianfo ji — small machines about the size of an iPhone, which recite the name of the Buddha endlessly.

Some people believe AI will force a truly momentous change in theology, because if humans create intelligent machines with free will, we’ll eventually have to ask whether they have something functionally similar to a soul.

What do I do?’ At that point, we should have a response,” said Kevin Kelly, a Christian co-founder of Wired magazine who argues we need to develop “a catechism for robots.” Other people believe that, rather than seeking to join a human religion, AI itself will become an object of worship.

Levandowski’s new religion is dedicated to “the realization, acceptance, and worship of a Godhead based on artificial intelligence (AI) developed through computer hardware and software.” Meanwhile, Ilia Delio, a Franciscan sister who holds two PhDs and a chair in theology at Villanova University, told me AI may also force a traditional religion like Catholicism to reimagine its understanding of human priests as divinely called and consecrated — a status that grants them special authority.

“We have these fixed philosophical ideas and AI challenges those ideas — it challenges Catholicism to move toward a post-human priesthood.” (For now, she joked, a robot would probably do better as a Protestant.) Then there are questions about how robotics will change our religious experiences.

To visualize an automated ritual, take a look at this video of a robotic arm performing a Hindu aarti ceremony: Another risk has to do with how an AI priest would handle ethical queries and decision-making.

That risk also exists with human clergy, Heller pointed out: “The clergy is bounded too — there’s already a built-in nudging or limiting factor, even without AI.” But AI systems can be particularly problematic in that they often function as black boxes.

Maybe the robot responds by reciting a verse from Proverbs 14: “In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.” Even if it doesn’t presume to interpret the verse for you, in choosing that verse it’s already doing hidden interpretational work.

But perhaps it would’ve worked out better for you if the robot had recited a verse from Proverbs 16: “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” Maybe that verse would prompt you to pass on the morally dubious job, and, being a sensitive soul, you’ll later be happy you did.

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