Dr. Richard Land

Southern Evangelical Seminary Searches for Name of New NAO Humanoid Robot

February 19, 2014

​SES is First Seminary to Use the NAO Robot for Research into the Relationship Between Ethics and Advanced Technology

CHARLOTTE, N.C.—Countless “ooohs” and “aaahs” came from the crowd on Valentine’s Day when Southern Evangelical Seminary (SES, www.ses.edu) introduced the newest member of the SES family—a cute new NAO humanoid robot that will help students and faculty conduct research into the relationship between ethics and the emerging technologies in today’s society.

SES is the first seminary in the country to own a NAO (pronounced now) robot, and it will use the new addition different from most others. In fact, the big question at last week’s unveiling was, “Why does a seminary own a robot?”

The question is a good one, and the purchase of the robot raised the curiosity of students, faculty, the media and other interested parties around the country.

Dr. Kevin Staley, Associate Professor of Theology, who will lead the robot research along with SES President Dr. Richard Land, is an expert in the application of a biblical worldview to moral issues involving advanced technologies. Specifically, his specialty lies in investigating the ethical issues that surround robotics, artificial intelligence and human enhancement technologies.

Staley says it’s common for humans to attach human qualities to inanimate objects, like our phones, tablets and computers.

“We come to a point where we ‘can’t live without’ these things, and therefore, we dehumanize the human beings who are actually living and breathing around us,” Staley said.

Staley, who wrote his thesis on the topic of “Imago Dei in Machina? A Theological Reflection on the Ethics of Man and Machine in Communion,” told the Washington Post, “We’ve already developed relationships with the devices we use, and we need to be talking about it. It’s already shaped our culture, and we need to take a look at things and be wise instead of carte blanche approval and acceptance to every new technology that comes out.”

SES has planned a naming contest for the NAO robot, in which students and the public may participate, and will award the winner a generous prize package including a $250 Apple gift certificate; a pair of tickets to SES’s 2014 National Conference on Christian Apologetics; the choice of either Dr. Norman Geisler’s online SES class, Introduction into Apologetics, or Dr. Richard Land’s online SES class, Christian Ethics (each class earns the student three credit hours); and a one-year subscription to SES’ Christian Apologetics Journal. The total prize package value is over $1,700. More details will be released soon.

Already a leader in apologetics education, Southern Evangelical Seminary is working to make a mark as a frontrunner in the research of ethics in science and technology. The NAO humanoid robot will be used for faculty and student research into the ethical dilemmas that arise with the use of advanced technology in everyday life.

Added Dr. Land, “It is our desire to be on the leading edge of what is before our culture in all areas. It is in this way that we can influence church leadership and thereby impact what messages are being delivered to equip Christians to defend their faith at all costs.”

The very lifelike NAO robot features various communication devices, including a voice synthesizer, LED lights and two high-fidelity speakers. NAO robots have never been used at a seminary but have been used in research at universities and research labs around the world, including MIT, Tokyo University, University of South Carolina and Carnegie Mellon. These other top-notch institutions have used the robot for research in topics such as computer science, human-machine interaction and the social sciences. NAO, which has also been used in the education of autistic students, boasts face and object recognition, automatic speech recognition, text-to-speech in seven languages and whole body motion. SES’s faculty and students are already considering the various ways the NAO robot can be utilized in research in the ethical use of robotics.

The new NAO robot will be a “featured guest” at the 2014 Southern Evangelical Seminary 21st annual National Conference on Christian Apologetics, set for October 10 and 11, 2014, at Calvary Church, 5801 Pineville-Matthews Road, Charlotte.

Registration is open for the 2014 conference that will focus on “Defending a Never-Changing Faith in an Ever-Changing World” and equipping Christians to answer questions about their beliefs rationally and intelligently as they explore the field of apologetics—especially important as it becomes more crucial for Christians to defend their faith in an often faithless world.

For more information on this fall’s conference, visit http://conference.ses.edu/.