Thursday, 17 September 2015

Automating the Vicar

Lots of ministers posting on Twitter that, according to a BBC survey, they've only a 2% chance of being automated out of employment.

Which is nice. Obviously lots of people are at risk of being automated. But it's good to know that the clergy are safe.

So I started thinking about which parts of a clergy job could be automated. And I should immediately distance myself from Young Keith. In what I presume was an homage to Douglas Adams, he said he reckoned he could program a robot to do it. It just needed two phrases - "Two sugars,please" and "vote Labour." Wrong. Wrong. I thoroughly disapprove. I only quote hin to indicate just how wrong he is.

No there's lost the clergy do that you couldn't automate. Not reading the Bible, obviously. That could easily be automated. Or calling to check you're OK. An automated system could cope. Albeit it might have trouble if you chose option 17 - "I'm suffering from existential dread and a phobia of biscuits". But in general. Just plug in the numbers / email addresses, and send round a friendly message on a frequency that could be pre-arranged or selected from the Church website.

Obviously, once they've spent a few years in ministry, many clergy have a desire to run a building project. And it's well known that project management is a hard skill to automate - all that negotiation and bullying is hard to reproduce in a robot. In general, automating project management is going to require the invention of the Daleks. But still, when you dig deep down into most church building projects - they don't really need to be done, do they? Short of the urgent "The tower is falling down". most reorganisations are, when deeply investigated, optional. So never mind automating the job. Just don't do it. It'll go away.

And again, the mechanics of most worship - getting a speech simulator to do the litugy is easy, leaving suitable pauses. You could just play a tape instead of having a sermon.

So if we dig in here to this "my job only has a 2% chance of being automated", we rapidly head towards "only 2% of my job can't be automated." And here's the rub - it seems to be the important bit. It's being the only one with the time to listen when everyone else is out or dashing about. It's being sometimes the only human face that somebody sees who's not a health professional. It's sometimes about just being there - an actual human presence that can't be automated because there is nothing on earth, to the vast majority of human beings (I leave Burton Dasset out here) that can do the job of another human being. Being asked "say one for me..." - doesn't work if you can just type the prayer into a website. Somebody praying for you can only be done by a real person.

Cooing over a baby; diffusing the anger and fear at some funerals; being as pleased as the couple you've just married. You can't automate those.

It's about taking a piece of bread and a glass of wine, and saying "this is my body..... this is my blood".  That's the bits you can't automate. That's the bits that are irreplaceable.

Not chairing committees. Anyone could get a robot to sit there for two hours, and then go "so if we do not have any other business...". In fact a robot's got the advantage. It could go into sleep mode.

Obviously, the minister can't. That would never happen, would it?


  1. It's not the automation that I worry about. It's the use of Artificial Intelligence to improve Eton educated, Oxbridge Vicars - that would make them doubly dangerous and immediate Bishop material, without the grooming proposed by the Church Commisssioners.

  2. I typed in 'queen' but it appears they have not calculated the likelihood of the automation of the monarchy.


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