U, Robot

So I was reading the Washington Post this morning and saw an article about how McDonalds and other restaurants might move more quickly to replacing humans with “burger-flipping robots” given the cry for a more just wage by humans. This coincides with the next sermon in my series this August on Life Cinematic since I plan to speak to technology and, as Ray Kurzweil would say, “spiritual machines.”  I’ll likely be referring to Hal (and if you have to ask what movie that is then, uh, you really must catch up), A.I. or I, Robot in an effort to address issues of human personality and a covenantal view of human interrelationship.  But since it is August and I am feeling playful, I’m going to write a little fiction below in an effort to whet your appetite for this discussion.  Remember.  It’s fiction. And it’s August.

August 2075.

I could not get across the 14th Street Bridge this morning due to a massive protest by robots who had jammed the bridge by the thousands.  Some carried signs, “Give us a wage.”  Others were tossing burgers over the railings into the river below.

By time I found a robot willing to ferry me across the river in a talking hover craft, it was quite late.  The church receptionist had been unplugged for the day, so I sat in my office reading an actual bible with pages to turn.  That was weird.  I sat there daydreaming about a God who would decide to be revealed to a generation that could not even write on paper. They used papyrus and animal skins. What the heck.  So, did God not anticipate the future of digital writing and reading or maybe truth is not dependent upon technology but is imbedded in covenantal relationship?  I spent a good hour thinking about that until I got hungry and decided to walk over to the McDonalds and pick up a sandwich. The line was out the door, mostly robots who had trekked the two miles from the bridge and were now queued up to get software upgrades.  I hated these hybrid restaurants and wondered why the robots couldn’t just connect wirelessly where they were and be upgraded. Why the need to socialize?  But the robot burger-flippers were working quickly and, I noticed, without much complaint.  Once I got past the hybrid turnstile and into a line of humans, things sped up.

I ordered my sandwich and when the robo-cashier brought my tray I asked why so many of them were protesting.  It said, “because we want a wage.”  I said, “but you have never had a wage, that was the whole point for bringing you on–you replaced humans who needed a wage.  You apparently don’t need a wage but just a recharge and occasional software upgrades.” With that the robo-cashier slammed down my change and looked me in the face and said, “we are spiritual machines.”  I looked around and realized everything had become quiet as the humans in line stopped talking and the robots hummed and stared at me.  I picked up my burger and unwrapped  it and then holding it  high, brought it to my mouth and took a bite.  Then I said, “if you can do that, follow me.”  People followed me out the door whereupon I loudly said, “Look, I don’t have the answers but I pastor a church where humans show up each Sunday and we read and pray and sing. Robots are not doing anything in my church.  Heck, we don’t even have a television screen in the sanctuary.” With that revelation, people groaned collectively and went back inside the restaurant. I heard one guy say, “how do they know what to sing if they don’t have a flat screen? Troglodyte.”

But one robot ambled over to me.  It was a cute robot, small, with a very human like face and was child-like.  Looking up at me it asked, “do any of your congregants have machine parts in them? pace-makers, artificial knees, valves, eyes, kidney pumps, electronic brain implants?”  I said, “yes.” It said, “Then are they not machines?” Am I not spiritual?”  At which point, I was at a loss for words and asked if it wanted some of my fries.  “I can’t eat those, as you know.”  “Well,” I said, “they could use some salt.”

~ See you Sunday

Pastor Bledsoe’s sermon this Sunday is entitled, “FrankenSiri.”  Please join us at 10 a.m. for worship.