Fin Tech Focus

Blessed by a bot

November 13 - 19, 2019

Gulf Weekly Naman Arora
By Naman Arora

Gulf Weekly Blessed by a bot

A new priest named Mindar is holding   forth at Kodaiji, a 400-year-old Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan. Like other clergy members, this priest can deliver sermons and move around to interact with worshippers. But Mindar comes with some unusual traits like a body made of aluminum and silicone.

Mindar is a robot, designed to look like Kannon, the Buddhist deity of mercy with a price tag of $1 million.

For now, Mindar is not AI-powered. It just recites the same sermon about the Heart Sutra over and over. But the robot’s creators say they plan to give it machine-learning capabilities that’ll enable it to tailor feedback to worshippers’ specific spiritual and ethical problems.

Tensho Goto, the temple’s chief steward said: “This robot will never die. It will just keep updating itself and evolving. With AI, we hope it will grow in wisdom to help people overcome even the most difficult troubles. It’s changing Buddhism.”

In 2017, Indians rolled out a robot that performs the Hindu aarti ritual, which involves moving a light round and round in front of a deity. That same year, in honor of the Protestant Reformation’s 500th anniversary, Germany’s Protestant Church created a robot called BlessU-2. It gave preprogrammed blessings to over 10,000 people.

SanTO — short for Sanctified Theomorphic Operator — a 17-inch-tall robot reminiscent of figurines of Catholic saints assuages people’s concerns about the future.

Roboticist Gabriele Trovato designed SanTO to offer spiritual succor to elderly people whose mobility and social contact may be limited. Next, he wants to develop devices for Muslims, though it remains to be seen what form those might take.

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