Rise (and kneeling) of the machines

Via Tyler Cowen, this looks like a good way to scam people who subscribe to a very odd theology:

Information Age Prayer is a site that charges you a monthly fee to say prayers for you. A typical charge is $4.95 per month to say three prayers specified by you each day.
“We use state of the art text to speech synthesizers to voice each prayer at a volume and speed equivalent to typical person praying,” the company states. “Each prayer is voiced individually, with the name of the subscriber displayed on screen.”
Prices, however, are dictated by the length of the prayer. As noted in the Information Age Prayer FAQ, “A discounted prayer will cost less than other prayers of similar length.”

The scam is not that they don’t provide any value: presumably they supply some kind of peace of mind to the sort of person who goes for this, although I’m not sure it’s $4.95/mo worth of peace of mind. The actual potential for scamming here is there’s no way of verifying that they’ve performed the promised service at all, short of visiting their physical location (if it even exists). Then again, verifiability is unlikely to be a dealbreaker for someone credulous enough to find this idea attractive. It seems to hinge on some unusual assumptions about prayer, specifically that it’s a kind of magic spell that needs to be vocalized, but having a machine vocalize it is a valid alternative to doing it yourself. (On the other hand, to hear Fred Clark tell it, the notion of prayer-as-magic-spell is a prevalent feature in the bestselling Left Behind series, so maybe this isn’t such an unusual assumption after all.)
Entertainingly, the Yahoo News article goes from reporting on this service to cataloging occurrences of praying robots in science fiction, naturally including the Cylon religion in the recent Battlestar Galactica. However, Information Age Prayer seems to be less akin to the frakkin’ toasters than it is to, well, ordinary toasters.

5 thoughts on “Rise (and kneeling) of the machines

  1. shellock

    All I can think of is bruce almighty where he plays god and converts all of the prays into email and then makes the mistake of answering yes to them all…

  2. Kaleberg

    It sounds rather old fashioned. Wealthy Catholics would often pay a priest or monastery to have certain prayers performed in their hopes of avoiding eternal damnation. Catholicism was not the only religion to consider prayer something mechanical. Tibetan Buddhism had its prayer wheels which counted the prayer as recited on each rotation, something that clearly inspired Clarke’s famous short story, The Nine Billion Names Of God. (I think Buffy the Vampire Slayer used this idea when scanning in old incantations was found equivalent to reading them aloud resulting in the release of yet another unspeakable horror.)

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