China Introduces AI Robot Priest to Perform Funerals and Pray for the Dead
China unveiled a robot priest capable of performing funerals and praying for the dead, using artificial intelligence (AI) to meet the needs of a burgeoning funeral market.
The AI robot priest made an appearance at the 8th China International Funeral Expo (CIFE) in Wuhan city, central China's Hubei province, on June 18.
According to a caption from Imaginechina, "This AI Robot priest provides funeral services and can pray for the deceased."
Last year, news outlets covered the debut of a Buddhist robot priest in Japan. The robot — named "Pepper" — emerged at the extremely morbidly named "Life Ending Industry Expo" in Tokyo last August, Reuters reported. Pepper could chant Buddhist incantations while hitting a drum in the traditional manner.
Nissei Eco Company, a plastic molding maker, wrote the chanting software, while SoftBank Group Corp. developed the rest of the robot. With Japan's population aging and shrinking, many Buddhist priests receive less financial support from their communities, prompting some to find part-time work outside their temples.
The funeral robot could step in when a priest was not available. While it costs 240,000 yen ($2,200) for a human priest, the robot priest would bring costs down to 50,000 yen (about $450).
Despite this price cut, no one has yet opted for the robot priest "Pepper" over the real deal, according to Reuters.
China also faces an aging population, although its growing proportion of Christians raises interesting questions as to what sort of funeral rites the AI robot priest in the expo can perform.
Most people would likely find the very option of a robot priest offensive, but more options in the funeral market can enable families to spend what money they have more wisely. Perhaps dying relatives will welcome the chance to save their families money.
On the flip side, what kind of God accepts prayers from a robot? Is the AI priest cheating the deceased, cheating their family, or cheating God?
Then again, there are some who have started worshipping artificial intelligence as if robots were God...