Will funerals of the future have ceremonies led by robot priests?

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 August, 2017, 2:52pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 August, 2017, 2:54pm

In Japan, robots can serve as companions, helpers for the elderly, entertainment bots and even sexual partners, but now a humanoid robot called Pepper has been turned into a Buddhist priest for funerals.

Pepper chants sutras in a computerised voice while tapping a drum, providing a cheaper alternative to a human priest to see your loved ones off into the eternal sleep.

The robot was on display on Wednesday at a funeral industry fair, the Life Ending Industry Expo, in Tokyo, shown off by plastic moulding maker Nissei Eco.

With the average cost of a funeral in Japan reaching in excess of £20,000 (US$25,600), according to data from Japan’s Consumer Association in 2008, and human priests costing £1,700, Nissei Eco is looking to undercut the market with Pepper available for just £350 per funeral.

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With Japan’s population ageing and shrinking, many Buddhist priests receive less financial support from their communities, prompting some to find part-time work outside their temple duties, said Michio Inamura, Nissei’s executive adviser, who suggested Pepper could step in when a human wasn’t available.

Would-be funeral arrangers have the option to deck Pepper out in the robe of a Buddhist monk and can even live-stream the ceremony to those who can’t attend the funeral.

Buddhist priest Tetsugi Matsuo said he came to the expo to see if Pepper could “impart the ‘heart’ aspect to a machine because I believe that the ‘heart’ is the foundation of religion”.

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Pepper has yet to be hired to conduct a funeral, but with robots slowly creeping into most facets of life it seem inevitable they will be involved in its end in one form or another.