Softbank’s adorable little Pepper robot is truly multi-talented. Last holiday season, Pepper helped shoppers navigate busy California malls. This summer, Pepper’s learning to deliver Buddhist funeral rites.
Who teaches a robot to perform last rites? In this particular case, Nissei Eco Co., which does plastic injection and extrusion molding for the medical and automotive industries. Its engineers coded the software allow Pepper to perform its priestly duties.
At this year’s installment of the Life Ending Industry EXPO 2017 (which sounds a little scary, but it’s actually just a funeral thing), Pepper sat on the show floor tapping out a beat on a wooden fish while chanting. Pepper looked the part, too, thanks to its traditional Buddhist robes.
The pitch being made at the EXPO is that Pepper could step in the event that no priest was available to perform last rites. There’s also mention of a substantial savings. A family might have to spend upwards of $2,200 to secure the services of a human priest. Pepper, on the other hand, could be rented for about $450.
That Pepper hasn’t landed any of this sort of work yet, which isn’t entirely surprising. People are only just beginning to wrestle with the question of whether there’s room for robots in religion.
You might recall reading about BlessU-2, a bot designed in Germany to mark the 500th anniversary of The Reformation. Like this specially-programmed Pepper, BlessU-2 is meant to lend a helping hand when its human counterparts aren’t readily available. Its creators were very clear that BlessU-2 was not a substitute for a trained pastoral carer.
Here’s what it all boils down to we’re getting closer and closer every day to having real-life Reverends Lionel Preacherbot walking among us. At the current pace, they won’t be delivering blessings and rites until well after the other bots have been cleared to bring us take out and impulse purchases from Amazon.