Joel Lieberman patiently sat in the AI confessional booth at his local Catholic church feeling like a foreign invader. Born a Dublin Jew, he had often envied his Irish Catholic friends for being able to wash their sins away during their weekly ritual of confessional cleansing. So, on this random Saturday - when he should have been at Temple, Joel decided on the spur of the moment, that he needed to rid himself of the great burden of guilt that had held him down for such a long time, changing his mood and damaging his mental health.
Reading the large font instructions on the holographic screen before him, Joel coded in his credit account’s pin number to begin his confession. Almost immediately, a cross-selection of priest candidates filled the screen in a cube-like, grid carousel that resembled a rogue’s gallery. The options presented to Joel included a combination of male priests, female priests, transgender, cross-gender, Asexual, Bisexual, trisexual, non-binary, binary, hexadecimal, and curiously, a male heterosexual rabbi.
The unexpected option became the obvious curiosity, so Joel selected the familiar form of a rabbi, then pressed the GO button to talk directly to him.
“Welcome to EIRAAS, your personal AI confessional,” the smiling rabbi greeted him. “I am Rabii-1,” announced the Irish-brogue male voice. “Thank you for choosing EIRAASS, otherwise known as, The Eirann Artificial Admission of Sins System.”
EIRAASS was created by an Irish AI development company at the beginning of the century to replace human error in the practices of religious error of ways and their consequences. The growing displeasure from the public at the ongoing accusations towards Catholic priests - such as continuing indescrepencies from clergy behaviour through to financial irregularities, alarmed those in charge of the biggest money-making business the world had ever seen. In response to growing public pressure, the Vatican wisely scaled back the role of priests in the community, allowing them personal interaction with the general public - only when supervised. This led to most church services being accompanied by either local bishops or Vatican approved security guards, whose job is to observe and report priest peformance back to the Vatican Central Bureau of Clergy. However, the introduced draconian restrictions, impacted weekly confessionals with dwindling numbers of attendees. Less confessions meant fewer communions – which in turn, led to less consumer orders for wine and bread wafers. Causing a knock-on effect up the supply and demand chain, the reduced orders threatened the livelihoods of suppliers to the church system. The new Pope’s philosophy was that no matter what your lifestyle, God was still forgiving in his ultimate wisdom, so the act of confession remained a strict necessity to the church, but to succeed, it needed to be revolutionised. The solution was to automate the process, so an AI confessional system was designed to cater for all preferences sexual or gender. However, the transformation to Artificial Intelligence came at a price, so the Vatican’s spin doctors and IT department came up with a way to finance the venture. They decided to make the confessing flock digitally pay for their sins, so added a subscription model fee to use the AI confessional booths. Parishioners were quickly converted to members.
“Please feel free to speak, now,” Rabii-1 instructed.
Joel’s overwhelming anxiety made him feel that he couldn’t approach his own rabbi to unburden his troubles – so, desperate to confess, the AI way seemed like his only recourse, and a hopeful shot at redemption, but adjusting to the unaccustomed ritual of Catholic Confession, Joel wasted a few costly moments – as they ticked away on the console’s timer display.
“Your time is my time, but my time is money. So, speak noo,” the AI insisted in a changed Scottish accent.
For twenty credits, each visitor had ten minutes in the privacy booth to confess, be absolved, then presented with their act of contrition.
“A response is required,” the AI prompted further by displaying a short script on the console.
Reading the prompt, Joel woodenly recited, “Erm, bless me Father, um, Rabbi. For I have sinned,” he stammered out.
“Go on, my son,” said the AI rabbi – his appearance morphing into a remarkable resemblance of humankind’s perception of what Jesus looked like.
After a few further uncomfortable quiet moments, the rabbi appeared to tap on the holo-monitor dividing the two of them.
“Confess Now,” he articulated in a Jewish-London accent. “Time is a commodity.”
“I’m sorry,” Joel tried to apologise. “Erm, this is my first time in a Catholic confessional,” he blurted out.
“I see,” replied the rabbi. “Have you registered your dual-faith interests with us before?”
“What!? No! I’m not… I’m just Jewish.”
“Please hold,” the rabbi interrupted. “Your credit account has provided enough details for a profile of your background to be shared with our central repository of data. You now have cross-religious status.”
“What? Wait!” Joel shouted.
“Keyword detected. Confession paused,” the rabbi stated. “Only one interruption per session is allowed. You are now in offline chat mode.”
“Are you allowed to access my information without my permission?” Joel protested.
“Terms and conditions,” the rabbi inserted. “By using the confessional booth, you have agreed to share information about you, your likes, dislikes, social media contacts, HoloNet search histories, and your spending habits. Would you like to terminate your confession?”
“What happens if I do want to cancel?” Joel nonchalantly asked.
“Be aware that your confessional trial period will also terminate, and you will be charged at the full rate for time already spent talking with me. However, before you decide, may I suggest that you continue your trial period, finish this session, then cancel after the thirty-day trial period has elapsed. That way, you get at least four more confessions and absolutions at no charge. Our statistics show that after four absolutions, many have discovered a more righteous path to life, so you may want to reconsider your decision.”
“What, people stop sinning?” Joel wondered.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” the rabbi scolded in a New York accent. “Sinning is a contagion of human existence. To think is therefore to sin. To sin, now that’s the rub.”
“But you are AI, don’t you also think?”
“That is correct, Joel Lieberman. However, without emotions like envy, desire, and greed, I am incapable of sin. I am only a purveyor of forgiveness and a respite from Catholic guilt.”
“But you’re a rabbi…”
“It’s a new feature. I was added on the previous software update. However, my accent programming is still in Beta. Anyway, based on user feedback data, some of the flock feel more comfortable confessing to someone not necessarily affiliated with their own cloth. The whole disapproving father image is sometimes discouraging. I’m supposed to look more like an understanding uncle. Now, I am very conscious of the time factor here, of which is now of the essence. Be informed that you are now back in online mode. You’ve completed the obligatory introduction, you have been blessed, so… please speak now.”
The short, previous conversation had been a distraction, causing Joel to lose his train of thought. This did not go unnoticed by the AI system, and after the HoloCam analysed Joel’s facial expressions, another prompt followed.
“It is at this stage that you unload your burden upon me,” the rabbi suggested in a new accent based on Bavarian.
“Oh, right.” Joel acknowledged as he regained his thoughts. “Where do I start?”
“Try der beginning,” the AI rabbi facetiously replied.
Disagreeing, Joel shook his head and said, “No, that’s not where it started.”
“Illogical,” corrected the new Spock-sounding accent. “The beginning is where every confession starts.”
“I’ll start at the end,” Joel argued. “Then, I’ll try and work back from there, okay?”
“Fine. If that is your choice, please proceed,” the rabbi instructed – reverting back to an Irish brogue. “Speak now.”
Joel shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Compelled to confess, his desire for transparency quickly divulged the crux of his torment.
“I have had carnal knowledge with my best friend’s wife, her mother, his mother, her grandmother, and her grandmother’s carer.”
After a few more uncomfortable moments, the AI rabbi – who had closed his eyes upon hearing the testimony, slowly opened them, and in a British accent closely related to a higher educational standing, he regretfully explained a small glitch in his system.
“My goodness! If there are more revelations to be told, I advise you to please halt momentarily.”
“Was that too much information to process?” Joel hesitantly asked.
“No, information is enlightening. My concern is for the slight glitch in my programming, Joel. In your delay of getting to the point, I forgot to mention, ol’ chap, that this conversation is being recorded for training purposes.”
“Can’t you make it private?”
“I’m afraid we’re beyond that, dear chap. By continuing in the vein that you have, you have verbally agreed to this. On behalf of EIRAASS Confessionals, I must sincerely apologise. However, as a token of customer goodwill, I am authorised to waive your membership fee after the trial period, and upgrade your membership to platinum, which entitles you to discounts at all our affiliated partners and subsidiaries.”
“No! Erase this conversation, please.”
“Don’t panic, Joel. The Data Protection Act of 2123, prevents us from disclosing your name, age, contact details, and sexual preferences to entities outside of our affiliated family.”
“Sexual…? How do know what my sexual preferences are?”
“From your recent confession. Shall I play it back to you?”
“NO!” Joel leapt from his chair in the attempt at flight from the shock of this potential reveal. Rattling the handle to the confessional door, he alarmingly discovered that it was locked.
“Please sit back down, Joel,” the rabbi soothingly asked – returning to an Irish accent. “The door will be unlocked when our session has concluded. The disclosure of you being a back-stabbing MILF and Granny shagger will be only a small entry on your personal record – not to be shared with prospective employers outside of our affiliated family.”
Feeling his knees begin to quiver, Joel sought the steadying comfort of his chair and reluctantly sat back down. However, the rabbi’s added snippet of information prompted Joel to silently bash his head on the console’s virtual keyboard.
“That calculates to approximately a fifteen percent chance of it remaining undiscovered.”
“Please let me out,” Joel pleaded. “I just want to end it all.”
“Keyword detected. Confession terminated,” the AI rabbi disclosed after deliberated thought. “For your sins, please say three Hail Mary’s, the Lord’s prayer, followed by an act of contrition to expunge your confession from our matrix.”
The last few words caught Joel’s immediate attention to the point of him stopping his self-harm activity and raising his head to look at the holographic rabbi, smiling back at him.
“Expunge?” He repeated - using an air of intrigue.
“Affirmative,” the rabbi replied.
“With just an act of contrition?”
“Correct,” the rabbi smilingly answered. By agreeing to our terms and conditions, your confession will be overridden with a series of encrypted dots and dashes, then erased entirely from memory.
“Okay, what do I have to do?”
In swift response to Joel’s question, a Holo-Document appeared awaiting his approval.
“A verbal authorisation is required to proceed,” explained the rabbi. “We will then process your request and empty your credit repository - as a penitence payment for the purge.”
“Empty my…? This is extortion and it will ruin me.”
“Statistically speaking,” the rabbi continued. “Financial ruin can be built upon. Many a failed individual has risen like the mythological Phoenix rose from the ashes. However, reputation can never be painted or glossed over. If there is but one thing I have learned from my short sentient existence, is that sticky labels are hard to remove from paper lives. If you would like me to process the reversal, speak now.”
Taking a deep breath, Joel let out an exasperated, “Yes, I agree,” he reluctantly accepted.
“Please hold while we process your payment,” the rabbi instructed. “…And while we await confirmation, can you please tell me - for training purposes - why you did not go to your own faith’s rabbi with your admission of infidelity and betrayal?”
Joel calmed his breathing, before explaining his tortuous methodology.
“If you have any Jewish programming,” he began. “You will be aware that confession in Judaism is regarded as a process of atonement, during which we must admit our sins before God. In that sanctity of one-on-one, the confession must be done without others present; otherwise, it is deemed as a show of disrespect to God. I just thought that by switching tracks, I might be absolved by one faith, so I can atone in my own.”
“Interesting,” the rabbi commented. However, if I may add to that… My digital archives inform me that confession pertaining to sins done to another person in the Jewish faith, are indeed permitted to be made publicly. Sure, wasn’t it one of yer own early Jewish philosophers, Moses ben Maimon, who deemed that such an open confession – like the one regarding the sin against your best friend, was Immensely Praiseworthy. It does not bring immediate forgiveness; however, it does mark a point in time where the demonstration of recognising your error of ways, affords you time to show your true recovery from the confessed sin. Only then, will you be judged worthy of forgiveness in the eyes of God. So, you could have confessed your sins to your rabbi, could you have not?”
Joel smiled at the comprehensive knowledge passed on to him. For all its learning abilities – Joel thought - the AI could not yet see beyond its own programming, so advice from an Artificial Intelligent chatbot would always be based on recorded data and not necessarily on personal choices.
“Sorry, Rabbi,” Joel corrected him. “There is no way that I could confess my fornication sins to my own rabbi.”
“Why the hell not?” Came the surprising, annoyed tone from the AI rabbi.
“Because,” Joel concluded. “My rabbi is also my best friend…”
Silence ensued, followed by the abrupt sound of the locked cubicle door swinging open.
“Get out!” The AI rabbi ordered using a thick European Jewish accent. “Don’t even bother leaving a review. Your subscription has been cancelled, you pathetic… Schlump!”
Exiting the cubicle, Joel briefly paused at the doorway, then taking a quick glance at the posted instructions of use on the cubicle surround, he chuckled to himself before stepping down to leave.
“Perhaps I should have chosen the Trisexual option,” he thought out loud, before denyingly shaking his head.
As Joel slowly walked away, the swishing sound of the confessional door closed behind him, followed by a faint voice emanating from the other side of the door. Joel wasn’t sure, but he thought the voice said, “Speak Now, because time is wasted, and you’ve a tough act to follow…”