If you think that robots taking over each and every sphere of human life is a far-fetched dream out of a sci-fi movie, then think twice because AI is already here and it found its way into none other than human religion. Yes, you read that right! A robotic priest is performing the duties of a human one and, according to sources, he’s doing a pretty good job, and no one is complaining so far. As you might have already guessed, the country that is so open to new technological advancements is Japan. Here are a few details about the new AI religion and how it came to be.
Mindar is a new priest at Kodaiji, one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Kyoto, Japan. He does everything other priests do – interacts with worshipers, performs sermons, and reads mantras. There’s only one catch – he’s made of metal, silicone, and doesn’t carry a beating human heart.
This $1-million-dollar machine looks like Kannon, the Buddhist deity of Mercy, and doesn’t have an AI just yet. For now the robotic priest just reads the pre-programmed sermon about the Heart Sutra and can’t impress the worshippers with something more. Although, the creators of the robot assure that soon enough they will install the AI that will give the priest necessary learning capabilities and, eventually, he’ll be able to interact with worshippers on a deeper level.
Tensho Goto, the chief steward of the temple, is sure the robotic priest will revolutionize Buddhism and give it a fresh start. The robot is ought to help people overcome their troubles, sharing his never-ending AI wisdom with them. As the religion is on its decline, he’s sure a robot like that will help attract people and revive their interest in spirituality.
Mindar is not the only robot-priest out there performing clergy duties. Germany’s Protestant Church presented a BlessU-2 robot who has given blessing to more than 10,000 people using a programmed sermon. India isn’t far behind – in 2017 Patil Automation introduced a robot that was capable to perform the Hindu Aarti ceremony. It didn’t interact with people, but was capable of taking part in other religious processes.
Sanctified Theomorphic Operator, also known as SanTo, was designed by robotist Gabriele Trovato to look like a Catholic saint. He created it especially for elderly people who might not have the ability to visit a church due to mobility issues or social circumstances. If you tell SanTo you’re in trouble, he will give you words of wisdom from the Bible.
Only time will show whether bringing more technology into religion is a good thing or not. For now, at least, the visitors of Kodaiji aren’t too worried interacting with a robotic priest – after all, it’s a country where robots have already infiltrated all spheres of life. It is also a curious fact that Buddhism doesn’t stand against technologizing the religion as it is not a belief in God, but rather a pursue of Buddha’s path. In this case, it doesn’t really matter from what source the knowledge and wisdom is coming from as long as it is aiding people to go further in their practice.
There’s also a robot called Pepper, who has been performing funeral rites for years now. In Japan, having a funeral performed by an actual priest is pretty costly, that’s why company called Nissei Eco came up with the idea of creating a robotic funeral assistant whose services are much cheaper. If that’s not progress than I don’t know what is!