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Robots in Japan are now Buddhist priests

It seems there is literally no job that is safe from the rising tide of automation, including those who guide us into the afterlife.

At the curiously named “Life Ending Industry” funereal services convention in Japan on Wednesday, a plastics firm called Nissei Eco showed off a version of SoftBank’s Pepper robot that it had coded to chant traditional Buddhist funeral prayers, Reuters reported.

Pepper has tried its hand at a range of jobs so far, including store greeter, home companion, marketeer, and waiter. But with its high-pitched and robotic voice, Pepper sounds more like something you’d expect to hear in the background of a Radiohead song than at the services to reverently send off those who have died. (Perhaps Pepper should leave funereal rites to other, more qualified robots.)

It costs 50,000 yen (about $460) for a robot to lead a service, whereas a human Buddhist priest can cost up to 240,000 yen ($2,200). Buddhist priest Tetsugi Matsuo checked out Pepper at the expo to see if it could “impart the ‘heart’ aspect” of religion, he told Reuters, but as of yet, the robot has not be hired for any funerals.

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