1.1 About the talkAbout PeterProject workRecent podcast1.2 Key Takeaways2.1 My personal highlight project: Religious robotsReligious robot: Friar (1562)Religious robot: BlessU-22.2 Further research & related projects2.3 The overall objective of BlessU-22.4 What BlessU-2 does2.5 How BlessU-2 works2.6 Why BlessU-2 is interesting in the field of HCI2.7 Conclusion: Why BlessU-2 is meaningful to me
Peter van der Putten
Data miner and creative researcher Dive in How can machines learn from interaction? Or how can intelligence, or more in general, complex behavior emerge from simple parts? Big questions ofcourse, but nonetheless fascinating, and I enjoy studying these questions as a researcher in the Data Mining Group as well as in the Media Technology Program at the Leiden Institute of Advanced Computer Science at Leiden University in the Netherlands.
bots like you
Intelligent robots are all the rage nowadays, but what about emotional robots? And creative robots? Or even useless, curious, helpless or misbehaving robots? Yes, even religious robots. Does researching these bots with 'unique' human or lifelike qualities make us less or more human? And why should we care?
Building emotional robots
Robot-fan Tom speaks to Peter van der Putten, Assistant professor in AI & Creative Research at Leiden University, and Director, Decisioning & AI Solutions, at Pegasystems. Peter researches robots, in all their forms, looking particularly at the interface between human and machine.
In a nutshell: Snippets of thoughts I took from the talk itself
The entire talk gave me a good overview about the overall field of robots, which apparently consists of way more categories than I ever assumed.
- Pooping robots (Wim Cloaca...)
- Creative robots (Cyclograveur...)
- Curious robots
- Helpless robots (Furby...)
- Religious robots
Select which of the presented projects you find most interesting in a technological sense
Despite the fact, Peter ran through various interesting categories of robots, I consider the religious robots as most interesting, both from a technological point of view, but also out of personal curiosity as described later.
I did not know, they existed, nor I expected them to be. What I usually connect with the church or any religion is the opposite of progression. That's why I saw me pretty surprised about the fact, religious robots already existed in the 14th century and wanted to learn more about it.
Within this article, I will showcase two of them. Why two? I consider both of them interesting from a technological point of view taking into account, when they were created.
Did you expect there were robots 450 years ago? Me neither. It was conceivable that there were embodiments of religious icons creatures from way earlier times, the next level was reached with Friar, which featured a high grade of automation.
Although the history behind this clockwork masterpiece is not entirely clear, the complexity in how it moves is remarkable and I am wondering, whether Cardinals or religious folks' opinion on that was back then. Were they happy about it? Scared? Did it just mock and demystify religious life to them or even reinforce their strong belief in a higher instance?
According to the given sources, the robot was officially ordered by the church itself as miracle.
The prince's father, Philip II, vowed “a miracle for a miracle” and commissioned this automaton representing the monk, who was canonized as a saint
Mechanical Marvels-Automaton: Walking Monk Figure, 1550
Though its origins are shrouded in mystery, one legend proposes that this marvel was made after a relic of the Franciscan brother Diego de Alcalá miraculousl...
This 450-year-old clockwork monk is fully operational
This stern mechanical monk is a marvel of early automation; likely built in the 1560s, it is a completely self-acting device, with all of its clockwork mechanisms hidden beneath its cloak. Today, the clockwork monk can still scoot about, moving its mouth and arms in silent prayer.
500 years later, in 2017, another church commissioned a robot as well. As this one is a considerable threat for the future of church employees
Fabian Vogt, student of theology developed the robot, that can bless people in 7 different languages.
BlessU-2 is an interactive experiment of the Protestant Church in Hesse and Nassau for the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. It can be seen until september at the World Reformation Exhibition at Wittenberg (Saxony-Anhalt) near Berlin. The idea was to confront people in the 21th century with the meaning of blessing and the approaching digitalization with artificial intelligence.
I consider this project very interesting, as just in the "Slaapwandeling" project discussed in Guest Lecture 2: NextEmpire, the robot in such a traditional setting is a truely disruptive project.
This is also reflected in the comments of the showcase video, where people see it as a smear towards the church, a "terrifying stupid thing with lack of empathy", a derision of god.
Overall you can clearly see the fears people emit and thus reflect one main aspect, that characterises disruption: Discomfort.
Look up more information about the project and its creator. (And possibly related projects
During the last years, the world has seen a variety of other religious robots
So far we only discussed robots from monotheistic religions. But what about other religions?
In India, some kind of symbolism happened. In the last article Guest Lecture 2: NextEmpire we were talking about the role of darkness, and how we humans deal with that. As Indians, just as everyone else, fears Automation as disruptive innovation,Patil Automation, an India-based company, had the idea to let the Aarti-ritual, which is mostly about "giving light", execute by a robot. Thus this robot gave light in the darkness with the clear objective to communicate, that automation is not the end, but the light at the end of the tunnel - a new beginning.
The robots are coming for one of Hinduism's holiest ceremonies
Aarti is the quintessential Hindu religious ritual. Automation, for some time now, has given many Indians sleepless nights. So a coming together of these two says a lot about the world we live in. During the ongoing Ganpati festival in India, Ahmedabad-based Patil Automation hit the idea of letting a robot perform the aarti for the elephant-headed god at its Pune facility.
A buddhist community in Beijing created this virtual robot monk following a more educational approach. While being able to chant mantras, the robot can also explain things about the religion to people who are interested .
Robot monk to spread Buddhist wisdom to the digital generation
In an unexpected synthesis of ancient and modern, a Buddhist temple on the edge of Beijing has developed a robot monk who can chant mantras and and explain basic tenets of faith. At 2ft high, Xian'er is encased in saffron-yellow robes and has a shaved head.
In Kyoto, Japan, the local community went even further - with a robot being able to perform funerals.
Robot priests can bless you, advise you, and even perform your funeral
Finding the best ways to do good. A new priest named Mindar is holding forth at Kodaiji, a 400-year-old Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan. Like other clergy members, this priest can deliver sermons and move around to interface with worshippers. But Mindar comes with some ... unusual traits.
But why does the buddhistic religion seem to be way more open and progressive in that sense?
The android priest that's revolutionizing Buddhism
(CNN) - Could an android priest re-energize interest in Buddhism? It may seem like an out there move, but a 400-year-old Japanese temple has brought in a robot named Mindar to preach sermons. The adult-sized android, modeled after Kannon Bodhisattva, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, was introduced to the Kodaiji temple in Kyoto earlier this year.
In the above article, Tensho Goto describes the following and thereby delivers an on-point answer on that question:
“Buddhism isn’t a belief in a God; it’s pursuing Buddha’s path. It doesn’t matter whether it’s represented by a machine, a piece of scrap metal, or a tree.”
Explain the intended goal of the installation
According to some interviews, the robot was created to question the role of blessing and bring up the discussion, if it really requires a person employed by the church to read out pre-written blessing phrases. Furthermore another objective was to highlight the existence and importance of individual blessing. While church services are held rather general, this robot can be tailored more to the individual's needs.
Explain what the installation is and does.
The installation can both read and print-out personalised blessings to people.
The seeking person is lead through the following procedure:
- Select between 7 languages 🇩🇪🇮🇪🇫🇷🇵🇱🇮🇹🇹🇷🇷🇺 (Fun fact: the Italian voice was spoken by his local pizza baker, as the Italian priest cancelled the appointment)
- Select what kind of blessing you need
- 🚀 Encouragement
- 👥 Backing / Companionship
- ♻️ Recharge
- ⛪️ Traditional
- Do you prefer a male or female voice?
- Do you want to print out your blessings?
"Highlighting the contrast of classical church and the future was the reason we gave him a robot-like appearance instead mocking a human"
Explain how it works, which technology, sensors, actuators are used?
In this robot I see quite a lot of sensors and other components used, that already came to play in my project assignments, especially the most recent one (Challenge 4: Playful Interaction). In addition to that, a touch interface is used to display the possible choices. I think though, that an interaction solely based on voice would be possible as well, especially due to the current 🦠situation.
- LED matrix as mouth
- Moving hands with LED light (Servos, joint connections, LEDs)
- Distance sensor to detect approaching people
- Thermal printer for the printed blessings
Technically speaking, the robot does not seem to be overly complicated, as the logic it follows is quite linear. Could basically be done by some if conditions and randomised blessings from an array.
Explain why this project is interesting in the light of the field of HCI.
I was always wondering why the church claims "to be open to everyone at evey time" but often when I wanted to enter churches, e.g. on my trips, the doors were locked.
While I personally do not really care about church or rely on it as "social net" in terms of community and beliefs, I know that certainly there are people who are religious and dedicate their life to god.
In times where you can order a pizza 27/7, get customer support at any time of the day I am wondering, why the line to god should only be available for a few hours per day, only on Sundays - or even worse: Not at all, as services during the corona-crisis were cancelled entirely. But the people have problems in every time of the day. I think, nobody should suffer by such restrictions during hard times. People need someone to talk to.
A robot like BlessU-2 however can offer the basic service of a priest basically 24 hours a day, accessible to everyone. It might even possible to wrap it into a business model and use the coin detection mechanism I included in Challenge 4: Playful Interaction and sell letters of indulgence 🤑 - just as in the 15th century.
BlessU-Bots might be placed in public places in the world, support different languages, wait - maybe different religions and change their apperance accordingly? A robot always heading in the direction of the religion's origin, e.g. Mekka, Jerusalem, Nepal, India?
Explain why you find this project interesting
Funny enough that after choosing a Jesus robot for my 4th project (Playful interaction), in his talk he got to mention a robot created by the exact same protestantian church district in Germany I basically made this project for, without knowing a robot like this actually existed.
Inspired by the overall theme of the talk "Robots like you" I chose this one in particular, as I am not religious whatsoever but certainly interested in the role of religion in society and how even the church comes up with innovative and disruptive solutions. So this is basically the least "robot like me" - what does not mean, that I would not use it. Indeed I really like the fact you can take the personal blessing home on a paper. Or why else would fortune cookies be a success? They tell you what you want to hear - often in a surprisingly relevant way. Including this part enables people, to take something really meaningful home, reflect on it and maybe even put it somewhere where they are constantly reminded at it. I could not imagine a better retention machine for the church.