After working in the home, as an assistant at various stores, and as a waiter, SoftBank’s humanoid robot Pepper is adding Buddhist priest to the list of careers the robot can take on. Pepper can chant sutras in a computerized voice while hitting a drum, reports Reuters, as detailed at the creepily-named Life Ending Industry Expo in Tokyo.
The company Nissei Eco wrote the software for the Buddhist chants and said because of Japan’s shrinking and aging population, Buddhists priests weren’t getting as much monetary support from the community and have to work other jobs away from temple to make ends meet. Pepper’s abilities were developed so it could hold funerals when there weren’t any Buddhist priests readily available. That, and using a robot is much cheaper — about $350 compared to $2,200 for a human priest, if you don’t value genuine human sentiments for the loss of your loved ones.
While the intention may be good, the execution is not so. Judging from footage of the chants, the robot is quite disconcerting and brazen. Buddhist temples are places of peace and reflection. Death, and therefore funerals, are of religious significance and Buddhist priests play a vital role in the ceremony. Personally, I can’t see this working out, in addition to it being just plain creepy. When I sent this to my mom, she responded with a cry-face emoji.
No surprise, but Pepper hasn’t been hired for a funeral yet.