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Can a Robot Be Divine?

Researchers explore whether robots can become useful sacred objects in a religious context

7 min read
A robot with the appearance of a Christian Catholic saint can pray together with users and cite parts of the Bible and stories of the life of saints.
A robot with the appearance of a Christian Catholic saint can pray together with users and cite parts of the Bible and stories of the life of saints.
Photo: Gabriele Trovato/Waseda University

Robots appear to be in the middle of a gradual but persistent transition from automated tools that perform specific tasks to artificially intelligent entities that we interact with socially and emotionally. It’s not at all clear where this is going to end up—people toss around the idea of robot companionship and even robot love with some frequency, for example. What hasn’t been explored nearly as much is the idea of robots in a religious context. We’ve seen a few examples of robots assisting in religious tasks, but what if robots could take things a step farther, and become sacred objects, embodying divinity within a robot itself?

At the ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human Robot Interaction (HRI) in March, Gabriele Trovato from Waseda University in Japan (with colleagues from Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú) presented a paper taking a look at whether divine robots might be possible, and why it could be useful to develop such robots in the first place.

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
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A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof
DarkGray

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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