An important aspect of theological anthropology, ethics and practice is human relationality. Relationships and true relationships seem to be important religious values – but who is the other or the neighbour? The fact that people also form relationships with technology becomes particularly clear with the case of social robots. This paper explores social robots in the medical field, care and other human-machine interactions. Can social robots be a support, e.g. for people with disabilities? What is the reason why we consider relationships with robots to be less valuable than relationships with humans? Studies show that social robots can have many positive effects on diseases, physical disabilities, psychological impairments, but also on healthy persons. In theology and the Bible, many references can be made to an appreciation of non-human entities, otherness and those who are unlike us. Besides reflections on the moral standing of robots (moral patients, moral agents) and how we can ethically evaluate social robots, this paper develops a specifically theological perspective on robots following Emmanuel Levinas, David Gunkel and Joshua Smith. It becomes clear that relationships with robots change our human self-understanding and human relationships and are an opportunity to question theological concepts.
The second part of this paper focuses on religious robotics and religious digital technologies. Can robots be religious? If robots interact with humans in the future, then they will also embody certain human values, and then it would also be possible to program religious values into them. If social robots interact with humans and help them in medicine and care, for example, then they could also offer religious support. Otherwise, there are only robots with non-religious/agnostic values. Can robots be spiritual? Can they assist priests and help with administrative tasks? Can we preach with robots?
Anna Puzio is a postdoctoral researcher at the Goethe-University Frankfurt am Main in Germany. She obtained a Magistra Theologiae in Catholic Theology and a BA and MA in German Studies at the University of Münster. In 2021, she completed her PhD in Philosophy at the Department of Media Ethics at the Munich School of Philosophy in Germany on the anthropology of technology and transhumanism (“Über-Menschen. Philosophische Auseinandersetzung mit der Anthropologie des Transhumanismus” https://www.transcript-verlag.de/detail/index/sArticle/6012). She was a member of the interdisciplinary Graduate School “Ethics, Culture and Education in the 21st century” (“Ethik, Kultur und Bildung für das 21. Jahrhundert”) with a doctoral scholarship of the Hanns Seidel Foundation. Her research focuses on the anthropology and ethics of technologisation and how technology is changing our understanding of the human being and the body.