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Robots are entering all sorts of social spaces including areas such as religion and spirituality. Social robots in particular do not only function as a new medium for communication but are perceived as autonomous social counterparts. Using social robots in religious settings raises questions that cross disciplinary boundaries. Questions from human-robot interaction (HRI) ask about how to design the robot user experience. Theological questions touch existential aspects and ask whether robots can obtain spiritual competence and how they might fundamentally change previously unautomated religious practice. So far, work done by HRI researchers and theologians remains largely siloed within both communities. In this work, we attempt to interweave disciplinary views on social robotics in religious communication on the example of the blessing robot BlessU-2. We discuss a discursive design study in which the robot expressed Protestant blessings to thousands of visitors of a public exhibition. More than 2,000 people wrote comments on their encounters with the robot. From these comments we analyzed both experiential aspects such as the acceptability and design features of this social robot as well as how the participants reflected on important existential questions such as the origin of a blessing. We conclude that a probing approach and the subsequent collaborative analysis of empirical data was fruitful for both Protestant Theology and HRI disciplines. Central challenges of social robots could be addressed more holistically from the perspective of individual user experience up to the theological and ethical reflection of individual and social existential needs.

In: Artificial Intelligence
Reflections in Philosophy, Theology, and the Social Sciences
This book discusses major issues of the current AI debate from the perspectives of philosophy, theology, and the social sciences: Can AI have a consciousness? Is superintelligence possible and probable? How does AI change individual and social life? Can there be artificial persons? What influence does AI have on religious worldviews? In Western societies, we are surrounded by artificially intelligent systems. Most of these systems are embedded in online platforms. But embodiments of AI, be it by voice or by actual physical embodiment, give artificially intelligent systems another dimension in terms of their impact on how we perceive these systems, how they shape our communication with them and with fellow humans and how we live and work together. AI in any form gives a new twist to the big questions that humanity has concerned herself with for centuries: What is consciousness? How should we treat each other - what is right and what is wrong? How do our creations change the world we are living in? Which challenges do we have to face in the future?