Seems there’s no job robots can’t do. Case in point: a SoftBank Pepper robot can now stand in for a Buddhist priest.

Pepper bot.

Meet Pepper. He’ll be your priest today.

Visitors at the Life Ending Industry Expo in Tokyo this Wednesday were in for quite a surprise: a robotic Buddhist priest. The Pepper-model bot (built by SoftBank), received a software update from plastic molding maker Nissei Eco which allows it to chant buddhist sutras while tapping a drum, providing a cheaper alternative to a human priest for Japan’s rapidly aging population.

It’s undeniable that robots are changing how we think about our world and our jobs. Most people, however, would probably find it hard to believe that they’d also be changing how we think about religion. But now SoftBank’s humanoid robot Pepper has put itself up for hire as a Buddhist priest for funerals.

It’s not hard to see why. Japan can boast one of the eldest populations in the world, and the average cost of a funeral there fell north of the US$ 25.000 mark in 2008, according to data from Japan’s Consumer Association. As the priest alone adds some £2.150 on that bill, Nissei Eco is looking to offer consumers a cheaper alternative and cornering the market. Pepper is their alternative, and its paltry (by comparison) fee of $450 certainly does look attractive.

Compounding the problem is the fact that as Japan’s working population is shrinking, there’s less money going towards religion. With community support dwindling, many Buddhist priests are forced to take on part-time jobs alongside their temple duties, meaning they have less time to devote towards people’s spiritual needs, according to Nissei’s executive adviser Michio Inamura. Here, Nissei Eco hopes Pepper will be able to fill in the void by stepping in when there simply aren’t any human priests available.

 

Customers can hire Pepper, dressed in the traditional robe of a Buddhist monk, for their funerals and the bot can even live-stream the ceremony to those who couldn’t attend in person. Nobody’s hired the bot yet, but it goes to show that they’re starting to leave their mark on surprising facets of life — up to the very end.

 

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