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Religion, Robots and Rectitude: Communicative Affordances for Spiritual Knowledge and Community

TitleReligion, Robots and Rectitude: Communicative Affordances for Spiritual Knowledge and Community
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsCheong, PHope
JournalApplied Artificial Intelligence

In light of growing concerns on AI growth and gloomy projections of attendant risks to human well-being and expertise, recent development of robotics designed to fulfill spiritual goals can help provide an alternative, possibly uplifting vision of global futures. To further understanding of the potential of robots as embodied communicators for virtuous knowledge and community, this paper discusses the affordances or possibilities of action of robots for spiritual communication by drawing upon the recent highly publicized case of Xian’Er the robot monk (XE). By discussing XE’s communicative affordances including its searchability, multimediality, liveliness and extendibility, findings illustrate how robots can facilitate religious education, augment priestly authority and cultivate spiritual community. Contrary to abstract and dystopic visions of AI, findings here temper extreme pronouncements of societal disorder and points to prospects for pious and positive interplays between AI technology and society while also identifying various limitations for spiritual communication. In doing so, this paper unpacks the profound relations between religion, robots and rectitude, contributing interdisciplinary insights into an understudied area of AI development as faith leaders and adherents interact with new technological features and applications in their desire for transcendence.