WeeklyTech #115

Are robot pastors really the future of the church?

Editor’s Note: Last week, BBC World News released an interesting documentary on the rise of AI and robotic technology in faith gatherings around the world. This topic has been top of mind for a few weeks since I learned of the coming film. Back in February 2020, I wrote this article that sums up a few of my thoughts about how these dreams of robot pastors reveal a deficiency in the church as well as a faulty understanding of the role of technology in our lives.

As the conversation about the role of robots in the life of religious bodies throughout the world generates interest, Christians need to examine why we often feel uneasy or turned off by this use of technology in the Church. About 20% of those who used the Bless-U2 robot in Germany reported uneasiness and gave negative comments when asked about their experience. Some argued that it was an offense to God himself and others just felt like they were missing something that you get from a human interaction. Much of this uneasiness stems from a correct understanding about the nature and purpose of the Christian Church.

Christianity is not about information transfer or an individualized experience. At the core, Christianity is a communal faith in a God who sent his Son to die for our sins and create a new community of people by his blood. Christianity fundamentally rejects so much of the consumeristic and individualistic tendencies that we see throughout the world today.

Even without the use of robots or other AI technologies, churches often feel the need to impress potential churchgoers with flashiness and perceived cultural relevance rather than share the clear message of the gospel with grace and love. When many people attend church, they often want to be entertained and leave feeling good about themselves instead of letting God’s Word transform their lives in a community setting.

The Rundown

Facebook’s First Amendment rights complicate Section 230 debate – Daniel Lyons | AEI

Last week, House Democrats introduced another bill designed to alter social media companies’ business practices — this time by punishing “personalized algorithms.” This is the latest in a yearlong bipartisan assault on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the primary statute governing hosting of user-generated content online.

Lyft says it recorded more than 4,000 cases of sexual assault over 3 years – Faiz Siddiqui | The Washington Post

Lyft collected more than 4,000 reports of sexual assault on its app dating from 2017 through 2019, in its long-promised first safety report showing the extent of the safety problems on it app.

🔒Is everything in the world a little bit conscious? – Christof Koch | MIT Technology Review

The idea that consciousness is widespread is attractive to many for intellectual and, perhaps, also emotional reasons. But can it be empirically tested? Surprisingly, perhaps it can. 

Twitter’s own research shows that it’s a megaphone for the right. But it’s complicated. – Anna Kramer | Protocol

Twitter is publicly sharing research findings today that show that the platform’s algorithms amplify tweets from right-wing politicians and content from right-leaning news outlets more than people and content from the political left.

Oversight Board demands more transparency from Facebook – Catalina Botero-Marino, Jamal Greene, Michael McConnell, Helle Thorning-Schmidt | Oversight Board

Over the last several weeks, media reporting has drawn renewed attention to the seemingly inconsistent way in which Facebook makes decisions, and why greater transparency and independent oversight of Facebook matter so much for users.