By Tim Binnall
In an effort to appeal to a younger generation, a temple in Japan has enlisted the help of a robot priest. The somewhat eerie-looking android, dubbed Mindar, is reportedly based on a Buddhist deity known as Kannon and cost nearly a million dollars to create. Since February, the robot priest has presided over services at the 400-year-old Kodaiji temple in the city of Kyoto.
While its head, shoulders, and hands sport a silicon coating which gives it the appearance of a human, the rest of the robot is uncovered and gives the machine a rather uncanny composition. So far, reviews of the android's work have been mixed with some visitors to the temple marveling at the marriage of modernity and ancient religion. Others, however, say that Mindar's sermons felt fake and, intriguingly, those from the West have expressed concern that the creation is a form of sacrilege.
Mindar's human colleagues dismiss this critique as a result of cultural differences. "Japanese people don't possess any prejudices against robots," Tensho Goto observed, "we were brought up on comics where robots are our friends. Westerners think differently." To that end, he explained that the temple hopes that Mindar can connect with younger Japanese people visiting the temple who would otherwise have trouble relating to "fuddy-duddy priests like me."
Beyond merely drawing curious visitors to the temple, Goto indicated that Mindar may wind up becoming a profound source of wisdom thanks to advancements in artificial intelligence. "This robot will never die," he mused, "it will just keep updating itself and evolving." While that certainly sounds like a promising turn of events, one can't help but be a bit worried about a future world that features an all-knowing immortal android that has grown accustomed to being worshiped.