Our friends in Japan have pretty consistently shown a penchant for embracing robots to replace humans in repetitive jobs. They've even managed to successfully replace humans in service industry roles like food servers, hotel concierge. Even companions for the elderly. And now, funeral priests.
Japan's telecommunications company SoftBank just unveiled "Pepper," its robot priest, dressed in Buddhist robes, that can chant Buddhist scriptures, play the drum, and livestream the ceremony for people who can't attend the funeral in person. The demo took place at Japan's "Life Ending Industry Expo" in Tokyo last Wednesday (OK, maybe its just me...but... "Life Ending Indstry Expo?" Man, oh man.).
According to The Guardian:
The robot was on display on Wednesday at a funeral industry fair, the Life Ending Industry Expo, in Tokyo, shown off by plastic molding maker Nissei Eco.
With the average cost of a funeral in Japan reaching in excess of £20,000, 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.
Pepper (not a name I'd expect a Buddhist priest to have, but this is a robot we're talking about after all...but hey, I'm still struggling with the whole idea of a robotic voice pronouncing last rites...) has not yet been hired for a real funeral. With my northern European ancestral sensibilities, this is a wrong application of technology, but that's both culturally biased and pretty meaningless in the big scheme of things. We'll see how this sits with Japan's Buddhists.