“Robot priests can bless you, advise you, and even perform your funeral” – this is the title of an article published in Vox on 9 September 2019. “A new priest named Mindar is holding forth at Kodaiji, a 400-year-old Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan. Like other clergy members, this priest can deliver sermons and move around to interface with worshippers. But Mindar comes with some … unusual traits. A body made of aluminum and silicone, for starters.” (Vox, 9 September 2019) The robot looks like Kannon, the Buddhist deity of mercy. According to Vox, it is an attempt to reignite people’s passion for their faith in a country where religious affiliation is on the decline. “For now, Mindar is not AI-powered. It just recites the same preprogrammed sermon about the Heart Sutra over and over. But the robot’s creators say they plan to give it machine-learning capabilities that’ll enable it to tailor feedback to worshippers’ specific spiritual and ethical problems.” (Vox, 9 September 2019) There is hope that the robot will not bring people back to faith, but rather enthuse them for the knowledge of science – the science that Mindar created.
The resistance movement in Hong Kong uses different means of defence, communication and information. This is reported by the German news portal Heise on 1 September 2019. Demonstrators direct laser beams at the video cams, which are installed everywhere, not least in intelligent street lamps. The pointers are intended to interfere with the facial recognition systems used by the police to analyse some of the video streams. On television, one could see how the civil rights activists were able to use chain saws and ropes to bring down the high-tech street lights. Services such as Telegram and Firechat are used for communication and coordination. According to Quartz, “Hong Kong’s protesters are using AirDrop, a file-sharing feature that allows Apple devices to send photos and videos over Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, to breach China’s Great Firewall in order to spread information to mainland Chinese visitors in the city” (Quartz, 8 July 2019). You could read on a digital sticker distributed by AirDrop at subway stations: “Don’t wait until [freedom] is gone to regret its loss. Freedom isn’t god-given; it is fought for by the people.” (Quartz, 8 July 2019)
Some universities strive to use holograms in their teaching. Through this technology, the lecturer’s representative would have a physical presence in space. Even interactions and conversations would be possible if the holograms or projections were connected to speech systems. Dr. David Lefevre, director of Imperial’s Edtech Lab, told the BBC one year ago: “The alternative is to use video-conferencing software but we believe these holograms have a much greater sense of presence”. American Samoa Community College (ASCC) has now switched on a digital platform that will stream 3D holograms of University of Hawaiʻi faculty members to deliver classes and engage with ASCC students in real-time. According to the website, students at the HoloCampus launch on August 20 received a lecture by UH Mānoa Water Resources Research Center researcher Chris Shuler on the subject of “sustainability and resilience” – a theme “with special significance for the people of American Samoa and Pacific Islands nations as they face challenges such as increasing plastic waste and more dramatic weather systems brought about by climate change” (Website University of Hawaiʻi). Holograms could play a role in all sorts of areas, including social and sexual relationships.
Security technologies are spreading more and more. Some of them, such as the security robot K5, guarantee and destroy security at the same time. Mass shootings such as those in Dayton and El Paso are a particular problem. New tech firms like Athena are offering solutions, as Fast Company reports. “Athena Security uses object-motion detection to spot when an individual brandishes a fireman, and immediately send an alert to their client, whether that’s a private security firm or local law enforcement. The company’s AI object-motion detection is camera agnostic, meaning it can work on any CCTV system. When a gun is detected, the video feed of the active shooter is made available to the client both on mobile devices and desktop computers, allowing officers to know what they are dealing with and where it is happening, all in the space of three seconds …” (Fast Company, 23 August 2019) In fact, technologies are often the only means against technologies. They may also be successful in preventing mass shootings. Another possibility would be to disarm the population – but this would meet with resistance in the USA. Another problem is that this is surveillance technology. Therefore, as with the K5 and other service robots, one thing applies: one form of security is gained, another form of security is lost.