Should Catholics Welcome Robots?

I listened in disbelief to a lunchtime report on Sky News today, about the way robots are increasingly set to take over from humans in just about every imaginable way. One “expert” commentator spoke in a “what’s the fuss”? tone of voice, suggesting that if robots can do what we do, then we can enjoy life, after all why do humans have to work?  Robot

I am horrified at the idea of buying a meal in a restaurant cooked by a robot – one of the examples given – or of undergoing an operation in hospital performed by another member of the Robot family – one of the other examples given on the news.

Click here to read more and ask yourself whether Catholics can possibly support this “revolution”. Let’s consider the theological reasons – if any – against supporting this latest technological “miracle”.  Do we, for example, continue to  confess our sins ONLY to a priest?

41 responses

  1. How is it that these robots function surely they are programmed by humans.Let’s hope its not the least skilled as spoken about in the article or we will have serious problems.In all seriousness its ridiculous to replace human workers with robots and personally I would find it all a bit creepy being served by a robot in a restaurant if not very much off putting.

  2. I think robots are a mixed bag, neither wholly good nor wholly bad. I think we should consider the specific application and weigh each up on its own merits.

    For example, I am strongly against “driverless cars” – if that situation went wrong, then it could be very serious, leading to deaths even and so it is better to rely on human reason and ability in that case. (Of course, humans can still cause car crashes etc, but it is better to place trust in the human mind – which eclipses any Robot – than a machine).

    But on the other hand, many Police / Armed Forces use Robots in ‘Bomb Disposal’ roles – in that case, human life is safeguarded by Robots. And while the loss of a Robot may be expensive – if disposing of a bomb goes awry – its still a very minor thing compared to the loss of human life.

    So I think the criteria of whether a Robot is a good idea or not depends on how its “job” could affect humanity, if things went wrong.

    I dont think I would be worried about eating food cooked by a Robot – it couldnt be a worse cook than me! 😛 Many kitchen operations are already somewhat automated – eg the timer on a cooker, or an electric mixer. So probably a Robot cook would just be the sum of all these type of things. It could easily learn the cooking instructions by scanning a barcode or similar, on the packaging of the food.

    But that raises a question of how might Robots affect employment, if they can do jobs which humans currently do? Certainly it would not be a good thing to see unemployment rise, because employers prefered Robots which could work 24/7 and which do not need wages or holidays.

    In the industry I work in, automation has reduced the number of jobs already; it is related to computer systems, rather than robots, but companies have found that one (wo)man sitting at a control screen can – with automated equipment – do the work of many (wo)men who previously needed to do the same tasks manually. So we can see how technology can indeed have an affect on our workplaces and job opportunities.

    I think Robots are creeping up on us, they are already in our homes: you can get “vacuum robots” to do the hoovering for you. They are not humanoid in appearance, but more a “self-propelled hoover” with the ability to “learn”. I have never used one, but I understand you just let them loose and, at first, they trundle about bumping into walls and furniture. However they soon “learn” where everything is and so, in future runs, they can glide about hoovering effectively, without any crashes at all (unless someone moves a table or something!).

    This could be a positive for busy families – more time to concentrate on the kids, if the housework can be left to Robots.

    Another possible downside is many some people may develop unhealthy (naturally one sided) relations with Robots,at the expense of human relationships. People deciding to ‘opt out’ of society and shutting themselves away with technology (computer games etc) is already a growing problem for human society, particularly in parts of Asia.

    And if we look to Robots to do our housework, then surely there is a chance than some people may grow lazy or slovenly?

    So, as you can see, a mixed bag in my view!

    PS – what about Robot Pope, programmed with Orthodoxy? 😉 Cant be worse than some of the characters we have had already haha!

    • Gabriel Syme,

      I see your point but I think it’s healthy for us to do our own housework etc. I really don’t like this robot takeover at all.

      I do love your PS however – LOL! We could use a Robot Pope programmed with orthodoxy! LOL!

      • Once you’ve finished your house work….there’s a healthy amount you can do here…..I’ll just about manage to put the kettle on when your finished….

        • I’m beginning to be won over to this robot revolution. I hadn’t thought it through before reading Gabriel Syme’s post and yours, Crouchback, but the thought of sitting back while the machine does all the housework, is really beginning to capture my imagination. In case you haven’t guessed, I hate housework, because several months later I have to start all over again 😯

          And I tend to agree with Ronald Reagan who once famously said: “They say hard work never killed anyone, but why take the chance?” 😀

  3. I can’t understand the economic logic in robots taking over most human jobs. If the majority of humans become unemployed, surely businesses will go bust because no-one will be able to afford their products?

    • They can just give the money to us…..David Beckham and wife…..did they really work for all those millions that they’ve got…….the Face book guy allegedly worth $41 ….BILLION….!!!….how long would it take the average guy to make that amount of money…..how hard would you need to work for that…???…..so every time someone clicks on Facebook his personal cash register pings another dollar straight in to his account……whether anyone ever looks at the advertisements or not……we are all wage slaves….they could replace us all with robots to do the drudgery…..and still the economy would run its course…..if we studied the Churches laws on usury….and money was distributed in a Christian manner…..and not the present way that creates Mr Facebook…..

      Just remember to carry a good strong set of electricians wire cutters……that’ll teach any uppity robot who’s the boss….!!!

      • Crouchback – LOL! Love your closing comment.

        I also agree with you about “Mr Facebook” rolling it in while the rest of us slave away.

        Robots will never be able to operate without humans, so I doubt if we’re going to be redundant anytime soon, if ever!

  4. I think the main theological argument against robots is that they were not mentioned in the creation reports. God made humans in his own image – no mention of robots!

  5. Editor I think your onto something important with this thread.

    There has been continuous progress in the fields of both Robotics and A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) as scientists push for the development of sentient synthetic life.

    Ring any bells?
    How about this ….”saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make the image of the beast, which had the wound by the sword, and lived. [15] And it was given him to give life to the image of the beast, and that the image of the beast should speak; and should cause, that whosoever will not adore the image of the beast, should be slain”. Rev:13.15

    To see the current state of research in these fields check out the link below.

    Watch and pray

    • LOL! That’s a classic!

      I agree, watch and pray, that’s about all we can do at this stage. It’s hard to believe that the human race is about to be made extinct by machines, but very fitting in this century!

  6. Well, as far as I can see it’s just nuts. Robots? What’s next? It’s diabolical, all part of trying to control us. Just like the proposal to abolish cash and pay by cards. That way the authorities will have complete control over us.

    • Technology can be used for evil but it is not evil in itself.

      A christian society could make technology serve us. We could live in a better world than today. Our streets would be cleaner and safer. Our windows would sparklier. We would get ripped off by mechanics as much.

  7. In the future, more an more servile labour will be replaced by machines. This is a profound development for humanity. The more people we can liberate from the drudgery of menial work, the better.

    I wouldn’t perhaps want to eat a meal which had been cooked by a robot, but I would like to think a robot washed the dishes. The thought of some poor adolescent on minimum wage slaving away over a sink makes me feel guilty. I’ve done it, it’s not a nice job for anyone. The thought of somebody being in a job like this for the rest of their life terrifies me, because I know hoe hard jobs like this are.

    People made unemployed by robots could get better jobs in robot factories, or factories that made the robots that work in robot factories. So I don’t think robots would cause any economic problems in the long term, there will always be jobs for humans. Unemployment is caused by our flawed economic system. Employment would be rare in an authentic christian society.

    There is the potential to abuse any technology. But technology in itself is not sinful. This is the case with nuclear technology. You can use it to make weapons of mass destruction, or you can use it to create energy for millions of people.

    I can think of a few scenarios. Robots might become weaponised, which would be an immoral development in warfare and policing. Robots might become sex toys like in the Spielberg film A.I..

    We’re perfectly happy for computers to fly us thousands of feet above the ground in pressurised tubes. This would have creeped people out a few decades ago. The fact is, we’re safer for it. Pilots have not been done out of a job, rather, there job is now safer, more efficient, and therefore more economical.

    We’re already served by machines in supermarkets. We might prefer to be served by human, but isn’t that selfish of us?

    A robot of the future might be able to play a Beethoven sonata perfectly, but it will never be able to play it as well as a human. There will always be something missing.

    • Muffin Man,

      Your remarks about menial work surprise me. I think immediately of the fact that there is dignity in all work, no matter how menial. Not many dish washers end up in court on fraud charges – there’s a lot to be said for humble work. The grace won by Religious (like, e.g. St Therese of Lisieux) who used to (not sure about these days for obvious reasons) offer up their “menial” efforts, raises it to a different, supernatural level, so that it can actually help save souls. And, by the way, wives and mothers “slaved away over a sink” for a long time before they were promoted to pushing bits of paper around an office, without you men feeling guilty about it 😀

      Oh and may I suggest that what’s “missing” in these robots is a soul. The level of Godlessness now afflicting our society is evident in the fact that not one of the discussions on the “robot revolution” (that I’ve heard anyway, on TV/radio news programmes) has even mentioned that fact. All conversation is limited to considering the level of “brain power” – how much more clever than humans are these robots going to be, in a few short years… And that’s all that really matters, is the unspoken conclusion of the “experts” in their deliberations.

      I take your very good points about other computerised aspects of our lives, such as flying around the world, that we now take for granted. Maybe I’ve been too quick to be “shock horrified” at this latest development and maybe in a few years I’ll look back on this thread and think “silly me” – but right now I remain astonished at the idea that, were I still in the workplace, I could be taking my orders from a robot programmed to head the local secondary school 😀

      • I was under the impression that servile labour is a curse due to the sin of Adam. It can be offered to God, but precisely because it is a cross. It can be a form of prayer. But I don’t think it is good in itself.

        I worked as a kitchen porter in my youth. It was very hard work. I was required to wash a very high volume of dishes in a very short period of time, if I was too slow I would get shouted at. I also had to clean the kitchen after every night. Sometimes I wouldn’t get home until the early hours of the morning. It wouldn’t be so bad, but the chef was abusive and exploitative to me, so I left. I offered every plate and pot for a soul in purgatory or a person, but it was nevertheless still an appalling job. I was paid so little, that after I left I was no more financially better off than had I not worked at all. I wouldn’t wish this on anybody. Imagine having to do this day in day out for the rest of your life.

        Think of all the people in the iPhone factory in China. So many people were killing themselves that Apple actually installed suicides nets on their buildings!

        I have had family members who have been trapped in dead end jobs and they were miserable. I would not be happy my children ending up in this situation.

        Pope Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum says the poor shouldn’t just accept their poverty, but that they should aim to make their lives better.

        I got all this ‘worship work’ rubbish from when i was in Opus Dei. Not one of them had ever done a real days work in their lives. Which irritated me.

        • Muffin Man,

          I have not said anything akin to “worship work” and since I have no time for Opus Dei, you’re perhaps not understanding my point. Add to that the fact that you chose an unfortunate example for me, as I am one of those oddballs who enjoys washing dishes! So, forgive me if I don’t jump to say “mea culpa”. I certainly wouldn’t enjoy a boss shouting at me and nobody should be on the receiving end of such abuse. I think, though, that it’s important not to mix the issues. For one thing, there are nasty people, including nasty bosses in every walk of life, every job, every career, every profession, whatever term you choose to describe “earning your living”.

          Yes, the Genesis account of The Fall reveals that work was introduced as a punishment for sin, but Our Lord took us forward by his example, to show us that even the most lowly task is of worth and that nobody should be judged by employment, no matter how lowly in human eyes. As you will see, I came to consider a young man engaged in the lowliest of work as a friend, and would have thought nothing of introducing him to some of my (then) snobby friends as such, were we ever to meet in a social context.

          It is, of course, good to be ambitious to move to “better” things if that is possible, and to encourage your children to do so, but only if they are similarly taught never to despise or even mildly look down on those who are employed in menial work. I seldom feel dislike of anyone, can never bring myself to say “I don’t like so & so” (because I am in no doubt that if I really knew that person, I would like them) but I avoid the snobbish types like the plague. Can’t stand snobbery.

          In my teaching career, I have often told friends (at the most affluent dinner parties, cough, cough) about the most apparently humble person I have ever met in my entire life. He was not a member of any of the recognised and admired professions – most people, despite themselves, would look down on him, of that I have no doubt. Let me explain…

          I used to sometimes have to do gate duty at the start and end of the school day, and on those mornings I used to watch a young man, local Council employee, coming along, conscientiously sweeping the street. A road sweeper. We would exchange “good morning” greetings and remark on the weather. Then one day, a driver stopped to ask me for directions. I had to explain that I did not live locally but, wait… here’s a local coming along, he may know. This was my friend the road sweeper. Watching his response to the question and his readiness to help, and noting the trouble he took to give precise directions and so on, I would, thereafter, use “my friend the road sweeper” as I called him, to teach students all about the value of work, however, lowly, and never to judge anyone negatively because of their employment. Taken in the context of their high level exposure to “motivation” and “ambition” and a half a dozen careers interviews, work experience (although with every encouragement to prepare for university), I think the balance was struck. By all means, encourage youngsters to use their talents and to strive for the best they can do, but never at the expense of humility. Virtue, not vocation, is what’s really important in God’s eyes.

          You quote Rerum Novarum and so I thought I’d quote this from the same document, although I know that none of it is news to you and that you undoubtedly believe it with all your heart and soul. I think to include it, however, to simply remind us all that having robots do the menial tasks is not necessarily the answer to prayer, so to speak.. Allow me to repeat that I really do not think you will be in disagreement with anything I’m writing here, or anything in Pope Leo’s encyclical, but I include it in the context of the robot revolution, in the hope that the Government doesn’t impose dish-washing robots on us, as I would miss getting my hands all soap and water (every few months! Kidding! I do them every day – eventually!)…

          From Rerum Novarum…

          23. As for those who possess not the gifts of fortune, they are taught by the Church that in God’s sight poverty is no disgrace, and that there is nothing to be ashamed of in earning their bread by labour. This is enforced by what we see in Christ Himself, who, “whereas He was rich, for our sakes became poor”;(18) and who, being the Son of God, and God Himself, chose to seem and to be considered the son of a carpenter – nay, did not disdain to spend a great part of His life as a carpenter Himself. “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?”(19)

          24. From contemplation of this divine Model, it is more easy to understand that the true worth and nobility of man lie in his moral qualities, that is, in virtue; that virtue is, moreover, the common inheritance of men, equally within the reach of high and low, rich and poor; and that virtue, and virtue alone, wherever found, will be followed by the rewards of everlasting happiness. Nay, God Himself seems to incline rather to those who suffer misfortune; for Jesus Christ calls the poor “blessed”;(20) He lovingly invites those in labor and grief to come to Him for solace;(21) and He displays the tenderest charity toward the lowly and the oppressed. These reflections cannot fail to keep down the pride of the well-to-do, and to give heart to the unfortunate; to move the former to be generous and the latter to be moderate in their desires. Thus, the separation which pride would set up tends to disappear, nor will it be difficult to make rich and poor join hands in friendly concord.

          • Yes, I see what you mean now by the dignity of all work. We were never in disagreement about that. I too loath persons who judge people according to their job title or station in life, snobs as you called them.

          • I took you the wrong way. It is good we are in agreement. I am also pleased you are so knowledgeable about Rerum Novarum. Not many Catholics are, not even many catechists or apologists.

            • Muffin Man,

              That’s OK – it’s easy to misunderstand in discussions, written as well as (perhaps more so than) oral so think nothing of it.

              I had a good idea that we were really in agreement in essence. That’s the main thing.

              Thank you for your patience.

  8. I can’t see how liberating people from menial work will be a benefit to all mankind! What are the people who now do the menial work going to live on? Unless there’s a money fairy in this scenario?

    • Therese

      “Unless there’s a money fairy in this scenario”

      LOL ! I’d be all for it if there was a money fairy !

      • If there were better jobs available they would be in them.

        Do you think unemployment is a paid profession?

        • Do you know anything about economics?

          I wonder what monks must have said about the invention of the printing press.

          Likewise, laundry maids all over the world must have been up in arms after the invention of the washing machine!

          • MMR

            Actually I think laundry maids would have been up in arms, if all they were trained to do was laundry and their trade was taken away from them. How do you think they made their living when they were laid off by the machines? Do you know anything about economics? It’s the big businesses who will (initially) make a mint, not the redundant workers.

            It’s all very well saying “they will get better jobs”, but it’s not realistic. There aren’t thousands (or millions) of non-menial jobs going begging, and many who do menial jobs now don’t have the qualifications or the ability to do them even if they were available.

            • Also,being abused and/or bullied by the “boss” is not just the prerogative of the menial worker. Not by a long chalk.

            • Perhaps it was a bit obnoxious of me to pretend to Frankier I was an expert in economics and that he knew nothing about it. I apologise to Frankier.

              What I meant is that in an ideal Christian society, one based on Catholic Social teaching, the replacement of certain tasks with machines would serve humans and benefit the ordinary (wo)man, and not solely those who own the means of production, i.e. big business, as you astutely mention.

              In an ideal Christian society, the means of production would be fairly distributed, so ordinary people like us would be able to own a robot who would work for us, and create wealth for us.

              I don’t think there are actually that many “non-menial jobs going begging”. In our country at the moment there are thousands of highly skilled graduates, some very talented, who are finding it incredibly hard to find the kind of work they are qualified for.

              • Muffin Man,

                You couldn’t be obnoxious if you tried. And, well, you did try hard there (kidding!)

                I agree with this…

                ” In our country at the moment there are thousands of highly skilled graduates, some very talented, who are finding it incredibly hard to find the kind of work they are qualified for.”

                And I agree because I’m one of those graduates who is finding it incredibly hard to find the kind of work I am qualified to do – like running a seminary or being the Pastoral Assistant for the entire Archdiocese of Glasgow (with a view to being put in charge of Catholicism in the whole of Scotland.)

                One of these days, folks… one of these days I will be able to leave my robot to produce the newsletter and run this blog while I move on to higher (and better paid) things 😀

  9. Just imagine, a Robot programmed to offer the Mass in Latin , removing the need for human beings having to learn all that silly rubric nonsense. We wouldn’t have to dress them up like a Christmas tree as they could be programmed to turn their little lights on to the seasonal or feast days colour. Cardinal Burke would have nothing to do during the day what joy. Hail the robot revolution

    Editor: this person’s emails are programmed to go into the rubbish box in my admin but, as you can see, robotic systems do not always work. Anyway, I thought I would release this one since Domchas is a persistent troll (uses different names in an effort to bypass the WordPress “robots”) but frequently tries to present himself as a faithful, if concerned (at our dissent!) Catholic. The above comment from him shows his hypocrisy in full flight. For the sake of readers of this blog, therefore, I am correcting his shocking hate-filled anti-Catholic (that is, anti-Christ) statements by reminding us all of the perpetual teaching of the Church on the Mass. I’ve copied the relevant Canon (“on priests dressing up like a Christmas tree” – i.e. sacred vestments) from the (dogmatic) Council of Trent and the relevant extract on the Mass from the Apostolic Constitution of Pope Pius V. No response(s) from Domchas – under any of his aliases – will be published here. On the other hand, any blogger who wishes to add additional information for the sake of our passing readership, is welcome to do so, on the clear understanding that we do not believe in free speech for dissenters on this blog, so please do not pose any questions which require an answer from this (insert adjective) troll. Rhetorical questions such as “Are you for real?” are ok. Apart from that, ignore him and focus on the issue. Domchas (or was it Chasdom? or… ???) has allegedly reported us to “the authorities” in the past for all sorts of “crimes” and we’re still here to tell the tale. So, no doubt he’ll be threatening to report us to the Committee for Censoring Censorship now… bring it on!

    1 Council of Trent:

    CANON VII. If any one saith, that the ceremonies, vestments, and outward signs, which the Catholic Church makes use of in the celebration of Masses, are incentives to impiety, rather than offices of piety; let him be anathema.

    2 Pope Pius V – Quo Primum

    …Furthermore, by these presents [this law], in virtue of Our Apostolic authority, We grant and concede in perpetuity that, for the chanting or reading of the Mass in any church whatsoever, this Missal is hereafter to be followed absolutely, without any scruple of conscience or fear of incurring any penalty, judgment, or censure, and may freely and lawfully be used. Nor are superiors, administrators, canons, chaplains, and other secular priests, or religious, of whatever title designated, obliged to celebrate the Mass otherwise than as enjoined by Us. We likewise declare and ordain that no one whosoever is forced or coerced to alter this Missal, and that this present document cannot be revoked or modified, but remain always valid and retain its full force notwithstanding the previous constitutions and decrees of the Holy See, as well as any general or special constitutions or edicts of provincial or synodal councils, and notwithstanding the practice and custom of the aforesaid churches, established by long and immemorial prescription – except, however, if more than two hundred years’ standing. Apostolic Constitution, Quo Primum, Pope Pius

    • Domchas

      We don’t have to imagine a robot dear; you have proved over the last several months that a human being can be programmed to act and write like one. If you ever wish to be deprogrammed I hope you get the right help.

      • Therese
        For Troll deprogramming purposes, joining Bill & Ben the Flower Pot Men has its advocates – Mr.Jinx and the Meeces comes a close second… arf, arf,

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