With the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation this year, a German church is offering blessings via a robotic minister in multiple languages.
The Protestant Church in Hesse and Nassau has unveiled the robot priest, named BlessU-2, in Wittenberg, the same city where Martin Luther nailed his 95 Thesis to the door of the local Catholic church, marking the beginning of Protestantism.
The BBC reported BlessU-2 delivers blessings in eight languages, though The Guardian lists only five: German, English, French, Spanish, and Polish. BlessU-2 also gives a choice of male or female voices.
"We wanted people to consider if it is possible to be blessed by a machine, or if a human being is needed," Stephan Krebs of the Protestant Church in Hesse and Nassau, told the Guardian.
The reaction is mixed, Krebs told the BBC. Those who have a connection to church and are "set in their ways," find the robot "rather strange," he said. "But people who do not have any association with spirituality and with the Protestant church, they find it rather interesting, and in that way get to think about what Christianity has to offer."
That, Krebs said, is really what the Reformation was all about, with the printing press coinciding with Luther's actions, giving people the ability to read the Bible for themselves, in their own language, rather than relying on the church to tell people what it said.
The robot cites a Bible verse and offers a blessing while raising its two arms that flash with lights. Its mouth speaks in basic red LED movements while "eyebrows" move up and down. A touchscreen on its chest allows people to make their language and voice choices.
Krebs said the robot's purpose is more to "provoke debate" and is not part of an effort to fill the void by Europe's priest shortage.
A robot, he said, "could never substitute for pastoral care. We don't want to robotize our church work, but see if we can bring a theological perspective to a machine."
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