German robo-priests blessings draw crowds and disapproval alike

02 June 2017

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A ROBOT “priest” that can give automated blessings in five lan­­guages with beams of white light, has divided worshippers at an Evan­­gelical church in Germany, it was reported this week.

The robot, “BlessU-2”, has been developed by the Protestant Church in Hesse and Nassau, in Wittenberg, near Berlin, as part of an exhibition that celebrates the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s nailing his 95 theses to a church door, the start of the Protestant Reforma­tion.

The robot is square, has a touch­­screen chest, a head with eyes and a digital mouth, arms, and hands with bright lights in its palms. It is pro­­gram­med to give users a “warm welcome”, asking whether they would prefer a female or male voice, and what kind of blessing they would like.

Once the preferred blessing has been selected, the robot raises its arms to the heavens, with lights flashing from its palms, and smiles, before saying “God bless and protect you” and reciting a Bible verse of choice. The user can then print the Bible verse as a souvenir.

A spokesman for the Church, Sebastian von Gehren, told the Mirror on Monday that the robot was created as an experiment to “in­­­spire discussion”. But not everyone in the congregation is convinced. “One half thinks it’s great,” he said, while “the other cannot imagine a blessing from a machine.”

Non-churchgoers and tourists are particularly attracted to the robot; many were “now coming every morn­­­ing and evening” to receive a blessing, he said.

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