Pepper, a humanoid robot for your Buddhist funeral needs [Photo by Everett Rosenfeld/CNBC]
If there's any country in the world where a robot can be a lot of things, it's Japan. In Japan, a robot can be entertainers, aides for the elderly, friends for the lonely, and even sexual partners (yes, you read that right). Now, Japan also has a robot priest that can perform Buddhist funerals.
The robot Buddhist priest looks exactly like it sounds like—basically a humanoid robot in priestly robes. SoftBank, a Japanese telecommunications company, created the robot and named it Pepper. Pepper can chant Buddhist sutras while tapping a drum, as it demonstrated in the Life Ending Expo, a funeral industry fair. Nissei Eco Co., a plastic molding company, was responsible for writing Pepper's chanting software.
Pepper at the Life Ending Expo in Tokyo [Photo by Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters]
Never mind the cost of living—the cost of dying can be quite high. The average funeral in Japan can cost over $26,500, and this is based on the country's Consumer Association's data from back in 2008. The costs may now be even higher than that. Human priests, meanwhile, come with a fee of about $2,200. In contrast, families can hire a robot priest for just about $450.
However, these costs aren't the only problem in Japan's funeral industry. As Japan's population ages and grows smaller, Buddhist priests receive less and less financial support. Thus, some priests have chosen to find part-time jobs elsewhere. This means that their services will not always be available. Pepper can step in when a Buddhist priest for a certain community is indisposed.
A robotic sendoff to the afterlife [Photo by Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters]
People who would like to hire Pepper have the option of having him wear Buddhist robes or not. They can also choose the live-stream the funeral ceremony for the benefit of those who would like to attend but could not.
Pepper has not yet performed any funerals. It's possible that there may be those who will oppose having a machine perform a religious rite. However, robots have been slowly but surely taking over different facets of life. So why not death as well? The idea of having a robot priest officiate a funeral may just take some getting used to.
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