A new priest is causing a stir at a 400-year-old Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan. Named Mindar, she teaches about compassion and the dangers of desire, ego, and anger. But this is no run of the mill human priest; she’s an android robot.
Standing at 195 centimeters, Mindar is able to move her body, arms, and head. Only her hands, face, and shoulders are covered in silicone, to look like human skin. A tiny video camera is installed in her left eye, reminding some people of the robots from The Terminator movie series.
When giving sermons, she puts her hands together and speaks in soothing tones. “You cling to a sense of selfish ego,” she tells worshippers. “Worldly desires are nothing other than a mind lost at sea.”
Mindar was made by Kodaiji Zen Temple in collaboration with a renowned robotics professor from Osaka University, for the cost of about one million dollars. They predict that with artificial intelligence, Mindar could one day have infinite wisdom.
“This robot will never die; it will just keep updating itself and evolving,” said priest Tensho Goto. “That’s the beauty of a robot. It can store knowledge forever and limitlessly.”
With interest in Buddhism losing steam in Japan, Goto hoped that the robot priest would be able to reach younger people in a way more traditional priests cannot. “This robot teaches us ways to overcome pain,” he said. “It is here to save anyone who seeks help.”
They say Mindar is a manifestation of Kannon, the goddess of mercy and compassion. The goddess Kannon is known to change into a variety of forms to help those in need. This android robot is just the most recent incarnation.
While Goto says reactions have been largely positive from Japanese people, Westerners aren’t crazy about the idea of a robot as a religious teacher. “Japanese people don’t possess any prejudices against robots. We were brought up on comics where robots are our friends. Westerners think differently.”
Some critics have even compared the android to Frankenstein’s monster. In Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, Doctor Frankenstein builds a creature in his laboratory, giving it life through a mix of chemistry and alchemy. This creature is tall and ugly, but also sensitive and emotional. It attempts to fit into human society, but is shunned. This causes the creature to seek revenge on Frankenstein.
As her artificial intelligence evolves, will Mindar become a dangerous cult leader who turns on humanity, or will she spread peace and compassion to those who follow her teachings?