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God-like robots: the semantic overlap between representation of divine and artificial entities

  • Nicolas SpatolaEmail author
  • Karolina Urbanska
Original Article


Artificial intelligence and robots may progressively take a more and more prominent place in our daily environment. Interestingly, in the study of how humans perceive these artificial entities, science has mainly taken an anthropocentric perspective (i.e., how distant from humans are these agents). Considering people’s fears and expectations from robots and artificial intelligence, they tend to be simultaneously afraid and allured to them, much as they would be to the conceptualisations related to the divine entities (e.g., gods). In two experiments, we investigated the proximity of representation between artificial entities (i.e., artificial intelligence and robots), divine entities and natural entities (i.e., humans and other animals) at both an explicit (Study 1) and an implicit level (Study 2). In the first study, participants evaluated these entities explicitly on positive and negative attitudes. Hierarchical clustering analysis showed that participants’ representation of artificial intelligence, robots and divine entities were similar, while the representation of humans tended to be associated with that of animals. In the second study, participants carried out a word/non-word decision task including religious semantic-related words and neutral words after the presentation of a masked prime referring to divine entities, artificial entities and natural entities (or a control prime). Results showed that after divine and artificial entity primes, participants were faster to identify religious words as words compared to neutral words arguing for a semantic activation. We conclude that people make sense of the new entities by relying on already familiar entities and in the case of artificial intelligence and robots, people appear to draw parallels to divine entities.


  • Artificial Intelligence and robots share common representations with divine entities (e.g., gods).

  • Artificial Intelligence and robots, similar to divine entities, are conceptualized as non-natural entities with high power over human life.

  • These common representations rely on conceptual semantic proximity at the explicit and implicit level.


Artificial intelligence Robots Gods Semantic representation Perception of robots 



Authors thank Natalia Martinelli and Jordan Chambas for the assistance with data collection and Thia Sagherian-Dickey for helpful comments on the manuscript.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratoire de Psychologie Sociale et Cognitive (CNRS UMR 6024)Université Clermont AuvergneClermont-FerrandFrance
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of SheffieldSheffieldUK

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