Japan temple puts faith in robot priest

Kyoto: A 400-year-old temple in Japan is attempting to hot-wire interest in Buddhism with a robotic priest it believes will change the face of the religion — despite critics comparing the android to “Frankenstein’s monster.”
The android Kannon, based on the Buddhist deity of mercy, preaches sermons at Kodaiji temple in Kyoto, and its human colleagues predict that with artificial intelligence it could one day acquire unlimited wisdom.
“This robot will never die, it will just keep updating itself and evolving,” priest Tensho Goto said.
“That’s the beauty of a robot. It can store knowledge forever and limitlessly.
The adult-sized robot began service earlier this year and is able to move its torso, arms and head.
But only its hands, face and shoulders are covered in silicone to replicate human skin.
Clasping its hands together in prayer and speaking in soothing tones, the rest of the droid’s mechanical parts are clearly visible.
Wiring and blinking lights fill the cranial cavity of its open-top head and snake around its gender-neutral, aluminium body.
A tiny video camera installed in the left eye completes an eerie, cyborg-like frame seemingly lifted straight out of a dystopian Hollywood sci-fi thriller.
Developed at a cost of almost $1m in a joint project between the Zen temple and renowned robotics professor Hiroshi Ishiguro at Osaka University, the humanoid — called Mindar — teaches about compassion and of the dangers of desire, anger and ego. “You cling to a sense of selfish ego,” it warns worshippers. “Worldly desires are nothing other than a mind lost at sea.”
“It might be difficult to relate to fuddy-duddy priests like me, but hopefully the robot is a fun way to bridge that gap. We want people to see the robot and think about the essence of Buddhism.”
“I felt a warmth you wouldn’t feel from a regular machine,” said one of those polled. “At first it felt a little unnatural, but the android was easy to follow,” replied another temple-goer. “It made me think deeply about right and wrong.”
Others were less convinced, some insisting the robot was too “fake”.
“The sermon felt uncomfortable,” complained one worshipper. “The robot’s expressions felt too engineered.” — AFP