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Introducing ‘theomorphic robots’

Abstract As robots are going to spread in human society,
the study of their appearance becomes a critical matter when
assessing robots performance and appropriateness for an
application and for the employment in different countries, with
different background cultures and religions. Robot appearance
categories are commonly divided in anthropomorphic,
zoomorphic and functional. In this paper, we offer a theoretical
contribution by introducing a new category, called
‘theomorphic robots’, in which robots carry the shape and the
identity of a supernatural creature or object within a religion.
Discussing the theory of dehumanisation and the different
categories of supernatural among different religions, we
hypothesise the possible advantages of the theomorphic design
for different applications.
In the near future, robots are expected to fulfil a role of
support in human life, and the robot design can affect the
perspective of people who interact with it [1], and influence
their behaviour [2]. Even small details of appearance,
establishing a set of expectations of the robot's abilities [3]
and influence users' assessment of the application of the
robot. Robots looking like animals will therefore express
traits that the specific animal has, while the more human
features and attributes a robot has, the more it will be
perceived as a human [4].
Appearance of humanoids is particularly sensitive to
these psychological matters, as anthropomorphism is an
efficient mean by which humans can be made establish
spontaneously a strong relationship with artefacts such as
robots [5], and facilitate interaction [6]. Task role of robots in
human society is also related to anthropomorphism regarding
acceptance from the users [7].
Moreover, several studies have shown that the cultural
background affects the attribution of some form of
personality to robots [8], as well as the degree of
anthropomorphism [9] and expectations and preferences
about their role in the society and what they should look like
[10, 11].
In this complex context, it is necessary to study what in
robots appearance can reinforce a positive interaction and
improve acceptance.
*This work was supported by the Japanese Society for the Promotion of
G. Trovato is with the Graduate School of Advanced Science and
Engineering, Waseda University, Tokyo, Japan; e-mail:
F. Cuellar is from the Mechatronic Specialty, Engineering Department,
Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, Lima, Peru; e-mail:
M Nishimura is with the Graduate School of Letters, Arts and Sciences,
Waseda University, Japan; e-mail:
A common categorisation of type of appearance of robots
is shown in Table I, including anthropomorphic, zoomorphic
and functional robots. All humanoids and robots with
anthropomorphic features belong to the first category; all
robots which resemble animals belong to the second; robots
with a functional appearance instead are designed according
to their specific purpose.
From Greek:
human (anthropo) +
shape (morphous)
From Greek:
animal (zoo) +
shape (morphous)
In this paper we add a new category called ‘theomorphic
robots’. Theomorphic is a word that derives from Greek as
well: god (theo) + shape (morphous). The word implies that
the robot is shaped in a way to resemble something divine.
In the past a complex array of deities and divine creatures
served as models of human behaviour for commoners and
elite [12], such as Quetzalcoatl (feathered serpent) a
zoomorphic deity from ancient Mesoamerican culture, or
Wiracocha an anthropomorphic deity from ancient Inca
culture. This vast array could be applied to robotics.
Connections between robotics and religion have not been
explored thoughtfully, as there are only few publications in
the field. McIntyre [13] discussed about the relationship
between the concept of robot and ‘Romantic Transcendence’.
Foest [14, 15] discussed two distinct anthropologies -
Christian and scientific - and how building humanoid robots
can stimulate to think about the concept of personhood.
Higgins [16] associated gods and monsters as both within the
Uncanny Valley. Vidal [5] made a comparison between
human-robot interaction (HRI) and human-god interaction
(HGI), given empirical studies on rituals in Hindiusm. His
theories will be discussed more in depth in Section II.B.
Arguing about the shape of a god in a robot may seem
ambiguous; however we intend the meaning of theomorphic
as a robot which is designed with a shape, and carries the
identity, of something supernatural. Any representation of a
deity, a mythical creature or a sacred object belongs to this
Our hypothesis is that a theomorphic robot can be:
Introducing ‘theomorphic robots’
Gabriele Trovato, Member, IEEE, Francisco Cuellar, and Masao Nishimura
2016 IEEE-RAS 16th International Conference on
Humanoid Robots (Humanoids)
Cancun, Mexico, Nov 15-17, 2016
978-1-5090-4717-8/16/$31.00 ©2016 IEEE 1245
i. accepted more favourably than a non-theomorphic
robot, because of its familiar appearance linked to
the user's background culture and religion
ii. recognised as a protector, supposedly having
superior cognitive and perceptual capabilities
iii. taken in higher consideration compared to a non-
theomorphic robot, in the same way a "divine"
object is treated with more respect than a common
This paper is a theoretical contribution to the field of
humanoid robotics. No experiments are described in this
paper, as instead we lay the basis for a whole range of
possibilities as future work.
The rest of the paper is organized as follows: in Section II
we review related works and discuss the concept of
dehumanisation; in Section III we categorise divine entities;
in Section IV we discuss implication on robotics, and add
further ideas in Section V; Section VI concludes the paper.
A. Application of robots
Correlations between appearance of robots and their
application in society were summarised by Li et al [17].: in
that study, anthropomorphic, zoomorphic and functional
robots are compared. According to their experimental results,
anthropomorphic robots are good for the following uses:
public assistance; business; research; and healthcare.
Zoomorphic robots are appropriate for the following:
security; research; healthcare; education; entertainment.
Functional robots are appropriate for: security; public
assistance. In a entertainment task, the zoomorphic robot was
preferred. The humanlike robot was indicated as most
suitable for the security guard task and secondarily
suitable for the tour guide task; the machine-like robot
more for low sociability task as security.
Lohse et al. [18] carried out a survey on the same topic.
The Android BARTHOC was judged useful for applications
of guidance, e.g. receptionist. Zoomorphic robots AIBO and
iCat were seen as toys, also useful for healthcare. Functional
companion robot BIRON was preferred in fields such as
security and services like cleaning.
B. Dehumanisation
An important contribution to the concept of human nature
and humanoids has been given by Haslam [19]. He proposed
an integrated theory on dehumanisation, involving the denial
of two different types of humanness: characteristics than are
uniquely human (UH) and those that constitute human nature
(HN). This results in two corresponding forms of
dehumanisation: animalistic and mechanistic.
A human deprived of his UH would be perceived as
irrational, driven by instincts, as an animal, and considered as
subhuman; while a human without HN would be rather a
cold, rigid nonhuman: an automata driven by causes rather
than real intentions.
This latter is a common depiction of robots. This
depiction can intended also in positive sense, as by the XIX
Century German poet Von Kleist, who identified the human
deprived of intentions and self-consciousness, and God, as of
the same essence of perfection [13]. However, the nonhuman
generally has not positive connotations.
In Haslam's subsequent work [20], his theory was
confirmed by data collected from people from three different
cultures (Australia, China and Italy). The concept of
superhuman was also introduced for comparison. Results
showed that supernatural beings were seen as having superior
cognitive and perceptual capacities compared to humans,
while robots are seen as lacking emotions and desires.
Results regarding perception and intentions are
summarised in the trichotomy in Fig. 1. In that experiment,
robots were evaluated considerably worse than animals. We
conclude that it might be possible to improve robots
impression and their interaction by projecting some qualities
attributed to a deity, hence realising a super-nonhuman.
Figure 1. Trichotomy of dehumanisation based on [19, 20]
and projection of divine (dashed arrow).
In fact, as stated by Vidal [5], a lack of anthropomorphic
features such as intentionality can effectively enhance, rather
than impede, social interaction in some circumstances. These
circumstances happen in cases of human-god interaction, in
which a deity, whose intention can be interpreted without a
strong coherence of behaviour, and without displaying
superhuman capability. The channel used by the deity to
communicate, in case of Vidal's example on Hinduism, is a
medium, whose erratic behaviour makes him/her a
subhuman, or in Haslam's sense, a nonhuman, rather than a
superhuman. Then, it is up to human acknowledgment to give
a sense to the interaction. Therefore, contrary to the common
beliefs of roboticists, the aim of creating a social interaction
can be successful even without building a robot whose
behaviour is close to human, given the right circumstances
that create a suspension of disbelief. The attribution of divine
features to a robot, which we propose as in Figure 1, may
make this circumstance.
We define divine entity as a living being or an object who
has a connection with a deity. Being the essence of God
intangible, it takes different forms in several modalities. A
creature can be a messenger of the deity, or be possessed by
it, or carry a divine essence.
Creatures and objects are sometimes considered sacred
rather than just divine. Sacred entities are either present in a
sacred place; tracing to a sacred place; belonging to a sacred
creature, or universally recognised as sacred. Symbols can be
are abstract sacred objects: some of them are widely known,
such as the Star of David, the Cross, the Crescent, the Om,
the Yin-Yang. However, it should be noted that human
conceptualisation of an object or creature may change when
it is placed in a different context: e.g. a museum rather than a
shrine [21, 22].
In Figure 2 we summarise the different forms of divine
representations into a diagram consisting of three main
categories which intersect: divine humans, divine animals
and divine objects.
In Table II a non-exhaustive list is shown for three
different religions. We chose Christianity and Islam because
they are the two most widespread religions in the world
(respectively, 31.5% and 23.2%) [23]. Shinto was chosen for
contrast regarding the range of religion expressions, and
preferred as an example to the more widespread Hinduism
because it is based in Japan, an influential country in
humanoid robotics. Shinto alone, however, does not
completely represent Japan, which historically accepts also
The most important noticeable difference in Table II is
the contrast between monotheistic religions such as
Christianity and Islam, and the polytheistic approach of
Shinto. In the latter case, there are many possible divine
creatures or objects. The particular case of Japan is important
because the animistic concept, in which each living or non-
living object has a soul [25], has an influence on
development of robots. While in Japanese mentality, living
beings, objects, and gods are all parts of a whole picture.
Figure 2. Categorisation of divine representations.
Jesus Christ/
Virgin Mary
/ Angels /
the Prophet*
/ Angels*
Ebisu /
Inari /
Kitsune /
Lamb of
Crucifix /
Host /
Rosary /
Bible /
Holy Grail
Kabah /
Quran /
Shide /
Torii /
*Depiction forbidden
**Although originally from Buddhism, the
Daruma doll is a common object within Shinto
On the other hand, the ban of idols in monotheistic
religions and the strong distinction between the natural and
the artificial [26] contribute to make a neater categorisation.
Christianity encompasses several divine humans, and actually
rather than God being anthropomorphic, humans are
theomorphic, since created in the image of God [16]. Other
shapes of divine beings, however, are not part of the
canonical theology. This fact is even stronger in Islam, where
the ban of idols is intended to the extent of forbidding
depictions of any human, especially the Prophet. Iconoclasm
(the anti-iconic doctrine of prohibition of depiction of
symbols and religion icons), found in many Middle East
countries, has some reasons and implications. In fact,
depiction of living beings, either animal or human, has been
avoided, especially in sacred spaces, as depicting an image of
a living being would be considered same as adopting the role
of creator, which is reserved for only God [27]. Therefore,
iconoclasm should be considered as a potential problem and
definitely as an influencing factor on the attitude of people of
Islamic countries towards especially humanoid robots.
A. Categorisation
We argue that the impression that a theomorphic robot
gives compared to a normal robot borrows the significant
difference in impression that happens in each category of Fig.
1: the impression a saint may convey to a Christian compared
to a common human figure; a holy animal against a common
animal; a sacred object like the Quran compared to a
common book.
In the Figure 3 we overlap the concept of theomorphic
robots to the design space diagram, which corresponds to the
categorisation of divine representations of Figure 2.
Figure 3. Novel theoretical model of robot appearance categorisation.
Each sub-category of the overlapping area is explained as
a) Anthropomorphic robots: a humanoid representing a
divine human. While an android can be ideally
considered completely anthropomorphic, slight
differences from humanness can trigger an uncanny
effect. Likewise, anthropomorphic deities can also be
disturbing while arousing fear and fascination [16].
b) Zoomorphic robots: a robot resembling purely an
animal; it needs some additional context which
clarifies the supernatural identity.
c) Functional robots: a robotic implementation of an
object which has a function which is related to a
religion, or is sacred for some reason.
d) Anthropomorphised zoomorphic robots: a realistic
impersonation of a mythological creature.
e) Partially anthropomorphic robots: a robotic
implementation of a divine object with some
anthropomorphic features.
f) Partially zoomorphic robots: a robotic
implementation of a divine object with some
zoomorphic features or either inspired by nature.
g) This category, corresponding to the intangible
divine of Figure 2, includes any divine
representation which cannot be instantiated by a
robot. The inner edge of theomorphic robots area is
delimited by what can be created by mankind to
represent the divine.
Not all of these categories necessarily make sense in
terms of making meaningful robots. In particular, the utility
of making a theomorphic robot depends on the specific
connotations that a deity has.
Another clear distinction that can be noticed from Fig. 2
is between a, b, and d realistic representations of divine
creatures; and e, and f less realistic. This distinction
corresponds to the parameters "Realistic/Objective,
Iconic/Subjective, and Abstract" of the readaptation of
characters design space diagram [28] to robots [29, 30]. The
sub-categories a, b, and d correspond to McCloud's space
realistic design; sub-categories e and f correspond to iconic
and/or abstract design.
Because of reasons of implementation, it is currently
easier to produce robots of categories c, e and f. This fact
implies that some countries, judging by Table II, are more
advantaged than others in the range of possible applicable
B. Applications
In the introduction, we stated the hypothesis of the
benefits of a theomorphic robot in:
i. Being accepted more favourably than a non-
theomorphic robot;
ii. Being recognised as a protector;
iii. Being taken in higher consideration compared to a
non-theomorphic robot.
Point i is based on the fact that in each culture there are
widely known objects and characters. While this is more
related to culture than to religion, the concept still applies: a
robot designed in a way to hide the robotic element, and
impersonating a familiar object or character, may have a
better acceptance.
Points ii and iii concur together as a biunivocal positive
effect between the user and the robot. The user, recognising
the protective role and the superhuman capabilities, may feel
safer thanks to the robot. At the same time, the robot itself
may be taken in higher consideration and respect, to another
degree compared to the simple politeness highlighted in the
experiments described in The Media Equation [31].
The segments of users which can benefit from
theomorphic robots should also be discussed. We identified
the following groups:
Elderly people: in many countries, elderly people are
more emotionally attached to religion, culture and
local folklore. In addition, their rejection to new
technologies can be overcome by using an
"enhanced" robotic version of a familiar object.
Children: robots could be used in educational
environments to attract the attention of students to
learn about religion as well as history topics. An
experiment of this kind was carried out in Peru to
study Inca culture using Robovie V (Figure 4) [32].
Any other segment of population for which it is
easier to obtain suspension of disbelief. One
example could be illiterates, who are not able to use
technologies, but may still be well aware of local
traditions and folklore. In their case, studies
suggested that their condition may prompt a bigger
suspension of disbelief in human-robot interaction
Figure 4. Robovie V dressed up as Inca emperor.
In this part we discuss the idea of development of a
Daruma robot, as a first attempt to realise a theomorphic
robot of category d - partially anthropomorphic.
Daruma dolls (Figure 5) are common in Japan as
talismans of good luck, modelled after Bodhidharma, founder
of a sect of Buddhism. Darumas are said to bring good luck
in a variety of occasions. The custom is to paint a black circle
in Daruma's right eye at the beginning, while fixing a goal:
Daruma will keep that eye on that goal. Daruma's eyes are
both white (which means closed) at the beginning. At the
accomplishment of the goal, the other eye is painted black,
therefore having both eyes open [34].
Figure 5. Japanese Daruma doll.
Given its positive connotations, and the widespread use in
all Japan for its common usage, particularly among older
generations, a robotic Daruma can have an application in a
nursery home or in general can support elderly people.
In this role, a robotic Daruma, if provided of interaction
(including speech) capabilities, would also have some
advantages over other robots used for elderly care. This
includes seal robot Paro [35], which not being able to speak,
has a limited range of interaction, and dog robot Aibo [36],
which robotic appearance may be distressing at the beginning
of the interaction.
Our preliminary investigations, carried out through
interviews to Japanese elderly people and nursery homes
managers shown that although the elderly are often hindered
in the use of mobile phone, technological devices, and may
feel distress at the idea of interaction with new devices such
as robots, they are comfortable with the idea of a robotic
Daruma. In the near future, more precise data will be
published on this matter.
If the idea proves to be successful, this approach could be
replicated in different countries, by proposing the same or
similar robot functionalities, under different appearances. In
this process, the specificity of a nation's traditions and history
necessarily need to be considered together with the religion.
Christianity, being widespread across the continents, is not
the same in every place: e.g. a robot for Ortodox Russian
elderly people would differ substantially from a country like
Mexico, where the Catholic tradition intertwines with Aztec
and Maya cultures. Further considerations about
demographics (especially the percentage of aging population)
and literacy make the problem more complex.
In the future, we will also investigate social task
categories in order to find the best application for
theomorphic robots and correlate the findings to Li's and
Lohse's [17, 18].
In this paper, we discussed regarding the different
appearance of robots, introducing a new category,
‘theomorphic robots’, in addition to the already existing
categorisation of anthropomorphic, zoomorphic and
functional. We hypothesised the possible advantages of this
design in an improved acceptance due to familiarity, a further
recognition as a protector, due to superior cognitive and
perceptual capabilities, and a benefit for the robot too in
terms of consideration from the user. A novel theoretical
model of robot design categorisation was proposed in order
to prompt for a development of theomorphic robots in the
future, for certain population segments. In making this kind
of robots, there might be an advantage for countries like
Japan, because of polytheistic and animistic concepts in
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... Or how a social robot such as SanTO could keep isolated believers connected and informed as they pray, meditate or worship. Truly 'theomorphic' robots [7], such as Mindar, designed to embody, mediate and/or represent the divine of course afford some very novel interactions, not entirely uncontroversial. ...
... Conceptual clarification would be beneficial on multiple accounts: such research would aid religious communities in considering what kinds of robotic applications are appropriate given their theological aims, while simultaneous providing roboticists, designers and developers with these very attitudes in diverse religious milieus, along with a deeper understanding of the kind and nature of religious practices robotic applications might target. Categorizing robots in religion as 'theomorphic' has been suggested in the literature [7,11]. While attention to morphology on this approach might be helpful from a design perspective, we propose conceptualizing robots minded for religious contexts from additional perspectives. ...
In the wake of the robot revolution, social robots will eventually find their way into religious contexts. Indeed, some have already done so. Recently ‘Mindar’, the android version of the Buddhist deity Kannon Bodhisattva, has been introduced in a Buddhist Temple in Kyoto; a humanoid designed as Ibn Sina has probed Islamic attitudes to robots in the UAE; and Catholic and Protestant contexts have seen such inventions as SanTO and Bless-U2 respectively. As roboticists start to produce ‘theomorphic robots’ to represent and mediate the divine, there is an urgent need to include scholars of diverse religious traditions in the debate.
... Similarly, future sources of intimate emotional, sexual and spiritual satisfaction may differentiate further from the partners, friends, companion animals and children who have traditionally provided most with daily company. Our intimate sexual, emotional and spiritual needs are now often met separately through hook ups, self-pleasuring with sex toys, social media contacts who seldom or never meet in person, companion animals, emotional support animals, online AI therapists, and robot monks and priests (Samuel, 2019;Trentini, 2019;Trovato et al., 2019Trovato et al., , 2018Trovato et al., , 2016. Virtual entities and environments like avatars and Second Life already absorb the emotional needs of many, while sex toys proliferate, supplying out of the body experiences of sexual ecstasy and encounters with the divine (Hawken, 2019;Tracy's Dog, 2019). ...
... Where science delegitimises belief in the possibility of otherworldly transcendence, New Age spirituality preserves meaning by relocating the sacred to individual subjectivity and digital/technological artefacts (Aupers and Houtman, 2010;Farman, 2018). Robotic and AI technologies can be interpreted as infused with spiritual and/or religious meaning (Farman, 2018;Kimura, 2018;McGuire, 2018;Trovato et al., 2019Trovato et al., , 2018Trovato et al., , 2016. This suggests that existing spiritual and religious systems could prove hospitable to contemporary robots and potentially appealing to post-Singularity robots. ...
... These reasons are behind the introduction of 'theomorphic robots', which idea is first presented in [13]. Theomorphic is a word that derives from the Greek god (theo) + shape (morphḗ), implying that the robot design is made by taking inspiration from divine or sacred entities, as opposed for instance to anthropomorphic (shape of human) or zoomorphic (shape of animal). ...
... This abstract idea takes a concrete form when a robot is inspired to some existing form by which humans typically represent divine entities or sacred objects: therefore the categorisation 'theomorphic' is overlapped to some concrete shape. One first example was the realisation of a theomorphic robot with the appearance of a "Daruma" doll, for Japanese Buddhist/Shinto context [13]. ...
... Thus, the robot is not only functional, but also aims to provide psychological support as an intermediary with the divine. SanTO is one of the first theomorphic robots, which are defined as robots that carry the shape and the identity of a supernatural creature or object within a religion [20]. The term is inspired by the common classification into anthropomorphic, zoomorphic and functional robots. ...
... Although the share of reflective comments outweighed the comments on appearance and behaviour, the results still offer the first empirical basis to discuss the value and effectiveness of previously proposed guidelines on how to design for robots in religious contexts [21]. Although the guidelines are tailored to theomorphic robots, which are understood as robots that carry the shape and identity of a supernatural creature or object within a religion [20], and not humanoid robots such as BlessU2, they might be partly applicable. Based on theoretical insights on the historical intertwinements between sacred art and robotics, theologists and HCI experts developed seven guidelines for the design of theomorphic robots [21]: ...
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As robots are continuing to enter social spaces such as religion and spirituality, the timing is right to determine desirable scenarios and design factors appropriate for the deployment of technology in these contexts. We present two studies that empirically investigate the user experience, acceptability and design features of social robots on the example of a Protestant blessing ritual. In the first discursive design study, blessing robot BlessU2 interacted with more than 10,000 visitors of a public exhibition. We analysed the written comments left by 1923 visitors to understand more about the implications of robotics in religious practice. Overall, most comments were positive (51%), many neutral (29%) and some negative (20%). Four preferable scenarios for religious robots were derived: to demonstrate human creativity, to increase the reach of religious institutions and personnel, to offer service when there is no alternative, and to enhance service with unique robot capabilities. In a second study, we varied the appearance, behaviour, and functionality of the blessing robot, but found virtually no differences in quantitative measures on emotions and users’ perceptions of the robots. The qualitative interview data, however, revealed strong preferences towards a specific set of characteristics. These are discussed in the light of previous guidelines for the design of ‘theomorphic’ robots and questions for future research are derived.
... SARs designs can be generally categorized into human-like and androids, animal-like, and machine-like [30][31][32]. Studies have found that robots with a more human-like design were perceived as more intelligent, yet participants tend to prefer working with a less human-like social robot [33]. ...
Socially assistive robots (SARs) aim to provide assistance through social interaction. Previous studies contributed to understanding users` perceptions and preferences regarding existing commercially available SARs. Yet, very few studies regarding SARs' appearance used designated SAR designs, and even fewer evaluated isolated visual qualities (VQ). In this work, we aim to assess the effect of isolated VQs systematically. To achieve this, we first conducted market survey and deconstructed the VQs attributed to SARs. Then, a reconstruction of body structure, outline, and color scheme was done, resulting in the creation of 30 new SAR models that differ in their VQs, allowing us to isolate one character at a time. We used these new designs to evaluate users' preferences and perceptions in two empirical studies. Our empirical findings link VQs with perceptions of SAR characteristics. These can lead to forming guidelines for the industrial design processes of new SARs to match user expectations.
... SARs designs can be generally categorized into human-like and androids, animal-like, and machine-like [29][30][31]. ...
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Human-SAR (socially assistive robot) relationships vary by context of use and interaction level. We argue that context and interaction considerations must be incorporated into the SAR’s physical design requirements to align the robotic visual qualities (VQs) with users’ expectations. We propose to consider situational-based and dynamics-based human-SAR relationship models in constructing the requirements. Previous studies contributed to the understanding of users` perceptions and preferences regarding existing commercially available SARs. Yet, very few studies regarding SARs’ appearance used designated SAR designs, and even fewer evaluated isolated visual features. In this work, we aim to systematically assess the effect of isolated VQs. To achieve this, we first deconstruct the VQs attributed to SARs. Then, a reconstruction of body structure, outline, and color scheme was done, resulting in the creation of 30 new SAR models that differ in their VQs, allowing us to isolate one character at a time. We used these new designs to evaluate users’ preferences and perceptions in two empirical studies. Our empirical findings link visual qualities with perceptions of SAR characteristics. Together with the relationship models, the outcomes are an exemplar of how to form guidelines for the industrial design processes of new SARs to match user expectations.
... In light of the theomorphic design of robots proposed by Trovato et al. [145], care should be taken to incorporate the social, cultural and religious values of the targeted religious group in the development of religious robots. These robots should be programmable in order to store the religious values and personal preferences of the different religious adherents [64]. ...
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The relationship between religions and science can be considered historically controversial in nature. In constantly evolving global societies, it is important to provide a new perspective on the past and present relationship between religions and technological developments in the different societies. In this regard, this paper will provide insights into the different ways in which ancient societies and their religious traditions helped in the development of technological progress. At one end, it will highlight some of the positive contributions of different religions towards technological progress in the past. At the other end, this discussion will aid in dispelling the viewpoint that perceived the ancient cultures and societies as bereft of technological knowledge and innovation. This paper will provide a historical perspective on the development of relationship between religion and robotics in the past. A brief look at the existing scenario within the contemporary societies will also be examined, along with discussion of socio-cultural norms and values related to perception of robots in different Eastern and Western cultures. The discussion will conclude with some predictions regarding the future, along with the different ways in which the relationship of co-existence and co-dependence is expected to evolve between religion and robotics in the future, which goes beyond the predictions of mass annihilation and mass enslavement by sentient AI-based robots.
... This manuscript aims to be the reference review paper for the topic of religion and robotics, and adds the theoretical contributions of a taxonomy for robot design and the novel concept of theomorphic robots. The theories we discuss are a further development of the contents introduced in our previous works [35,36]. ...
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Humanity has been dreaming of robots since the ancient times. Historically, robots — originally called automata — have been the products of technology and faith. The relationship between robots and religion has disappeared in the last two centuries, as science and religion parted ways, and have typically been seen in opposition. Nowadays, as robots and AI are going to spread in human society, new possibilities and new ethical challenges are on the horizon. In this paper, we summarise the state of the art in robotics and religion, and propose a taxonomy for robot morphology that takes into account the factor of religion. The taxonomy encompasses the novel concept of ‘theomorphic robots’, referred to robots that carry the shape of something divine.
Cyber idols including Virtual YouTubers are accessible enough to be adored by millions of people worldwide and complicated enough to warrant a multidisciplinary discussion. They are animated computer images, but they are also much more than commodified computer imagery. Through everyday practices, we animate our worlds into existence and our worlds animate us. To show the symbiotic nature of this process, I use cyborg as a theoretical framework to explore transculturally the historical and contemporary relations between technology and idolatry from Renaissance clockwork saints and Tokugawa-period clockwork deities to contemporary robots and cyber idols.
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In 2017, the Protestant Church in Germany presented the robot priest “BlessU2” to the participants of the Deutscher Kirchentag in Wittenberg. This generated a number of important questions on key themes of religion(s) in digital societies: Are robots legitimized and authorized to pronounce blessings on humans—and why? To answer such questions, one must first define the interrelationship of technology, religion and the human being. Paul Tillich (1886–1965) referred to the polarization of autonomy and heteronomy by raising the issue of theonomy: the first step on the way to critical research on representing the divine in robotic technology.
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This paper explores the issue of design information and its effect on conceptual design. After outlining the nature of information and its role in product development, a number of taxonomies for concept design information are reviewed and most relevant information types highlighted. A new method for concept design that facilitates the searching and implementation of information in parallel with concept creation is then outlined. The performance of this method is analyzed with respect to the information sourced and used by student designer engineers when undertaking conceptual design work. On the basis of these results, a number of recommendations are made for the provision of information resources during concept design.
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Summary: Christian theology describes humans as images of God and assigns them intrinsic value and dignity. Science, on the other hand, attempts to analyze the human animal as the result of the evolutionary process; humans are meat machines that obey specific psychological, biological, and behavioral roles. Artificial Life attempts to build humanoid robots according to the scientific anthropology. This paper sheds a light on the two distinct anthropologies and how they are related – even though they refer to different realms of human expression and are not to be mixed. We will show how the attempt to build machines in our image has a spiritual side that transcends science. We will demonstrate how humanoid robots can teach us more about ourselves and help us to redefine the concept of personhood and make it more inclusive. Zusammenfassung: Christliche Theologie beschreibt den Menschen als Ebenbild Gottes, mit intrinsischem Wert und Würde. Die naturwissenschaftliche Anthropologie, auf der anderen Seite, versteht das menschliche Tier als Ergebnis des evolutionären Prozesses und definiert Menschen als Fleischmaschinen, die psychologischen und biologischen Verhaltensregeln gehorchen. Artificial Life (Künstliches Leben) versucht, humanoide Roboter im Sinne der naturwissenschaftlichen Anthropologie zu konstruieren. Dieser Aufsatz beschreibt beide Anthropologien und setzte sie in Beziehung, ohne jedoch ihre Unterschiede zu leugnen oder sie gar zu vermischen. Wir werden zeigen, dass der Versuch uns selbst nachzubauen, eine spirituelle Seite hat, die die reine Naturwissenschaft überschreitet. Wir werden zeigen, was humanoide Roboter uns über uns selbst lehren können und wie sie uns helfen, ein neues, inklusiveres Verständnis von Personsein zu erarbeiten.
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This paper proposes an experimental study to investigate task-dependence and cultural-background dependence of the personality trait attribution on humanoid robots. In Human-Robot Interaction, as well as in Human-Agent Interaction research, the attribution of personality traits towards intelligent agents has already been researched intensively in terms of the social similarity or complementary rule. These two rules imply that humans either tend to like others with similar personality traits or complementary personality traits more. Even though state of the art literature suggests that similarity attraction happens for virtual agents, and complementary attraction for robots, there are many contradictions in the findings. We assume that searching the explanation for personality trait attribution in the similarity and complementary rule does not take into account important contextual factors. Just like people equate certain personality types to certain professions, we expect that people may have certain personality expectations depending on the context of the task the robot carries out. Because professions have different social meaning in different national culture, we also expect that these task-dependent personality preferences differ across cultures. Therefore suggest an experiment that considers the task-context and the cultural background of users.
Purpose So‐called humanoid robots, among a large class of service robots, are designed to work in close harmony with humans. Their anthropomorphism and its consequences have, however, been little studied. The purpose of this paper is to tackle this question by differentiating the psychological meaning of anthropomorphism from its technical meaning, understood as a human‐like device. The author shows that the former generates salient projections which can be interpreted with respect to Mori's uncanny valley. The role of the task is highlighted with a theoretical attempt to integrate the robot as a social player into a Heider balance‐theory inspired model. This psychological anthropomorphism, however, must be compared with technical anthropomorphism, which leads to underlining present‐day difficulties in designing highly human‐like functional machines with, as a consequence, running the risk of giving them the delusion of a human behaviour that they are not able to realize. Design/methodology/approach This is a theoretical paper aimed to highlight a double meaning of anthropomorphism for humanoid robots and its consequences. Findings Task‐based interpretation of the Mori's uncanny valley and link between psychological anthropomorphism and technical anthropomorphism. Originality/value The originality of the approach consists in applying to the humanoid robot a double approach of anthropomorphism. The first one corresponds to the classical psychological meaning producing peculiar anthropomorphic projections on a non‐human being, while the second corresponds to the technical realization of a human‐like machine dedicated to be integrated into a human environment.
Conference Paper
In this paper, we describe the results of a comparative analysis of user-created designs for future domestic robots made by participants in Korea and the US. We identify their culturally variable expectations and preferences. We use a generative design methodology, which includes users visualizing their designs followed by semi-structured interviews. We describe our results in four areas of design: the look and feel of the robot, interaction mode, social role, and desired task. We identify variable cultural models relating to robotic technology and the cultural meaning of the domestic context as central factors. Finally, we discuss the design implications of our findings to culturally situated robot design.