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Robot ‘deity’ preaches Buddha’s scripture in Japanese temple

KYOTO, Japan — Every week, 62-year-old Miyuki Tanaka joins a pious crowd of Buddhists heading to the historic Kodaiji Temple in Kyoto, Japan.

Inside the temple stands Mindar, a 6-foot-4-inch, 132-pound priest. With charismatic hand gestures and a piercing gaze, Mindar delivers a poignant sermon on one of many most-read Buddhist scriptures, the Heart Sutra. The sermon is indistinguishable from the one given by the same old priest — till guests discover Mindar’s easy silicone pores and skin, aluminum bones and camera-embedded eyes.

In this historic temple, Buddhists study the teachings of Buddha from a humanoid, the robotic embodiment of the Buddhist goddess of mercy, Kannon.

“I often experience mood swings, taking care of my elderly mother. Mindar’s sermons on the Heart Sutra help me control my emotions and bring salvation,” Tanaka informed ABC News.

In a rustic the place two-thirds of the inhabitants determine as Buddhists, Tanaka is simply one of many many with whom Mindar’s sermons have resonated.

Visitors at Kodaiji Temple hearken to sermons from Mindar in Kyoto, Japan, June. 11, 2022.

Kodaiji Temple

“Before listening to its sermons, worshippers view Mindar as a robot. But after, they perceive it as Buddha, not a robot,” Kodaiji Temple’s chief steward, Tensho Goto, informed ABC News.

Mindar was born in 2019 from a $1 million collaboration between Kodaiji Temple and a crew led by Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro from the Department of Systems Innovation at Osaka University. Their objective was to reinforce non secular experiences and revive curiosity in Buddhism, which has been dwindling on account of modernism and generational change in Japan.

The design of the humanoid seeks to bridge the hole between the non secular world, the place Buddha exists, and the bodily world, the place Buddha’s kind materializes by means of Mindar, based on its creators.

The digicam lens in Mindar’s left eye allows eye contact with worshippers. Its fingers and torso transfer to mimic human-like interplay. The humanoid’s “gender and age-neutral look” additionally encourages worshippers to conceive their very own picture of Buddha.

PHOTO: Mindar folds his hands to pray in Kyoto, Japan.

Mindar folds his fingers to wish in Kyoto, Japan.

Kodaiji Temple

“The design policy for Mindar was about encouraging people’s imagination. Buddha’s statue has a similar design: it’s difficult to see the statue’s age and gender,” Ishiguro, who designed Mindar, informed ABC News.

Also complementing the robotic’s design is an interactive 3D projection mapping the place movies of worshippers are displayed on the wall behind Mindar. In a pre-programmed presentation, an individual projected onto the wall asks questions on Buddha’s teachings to Mindar, which replies with lucid explanations. The expertise invokes the feeling that worshippers coexist in a non-physical, parallel actuality with the Buddhist deity.

Although Mindar’s talents are restricted to citing preprogrammed sermons for the time being, the temple has plans to introduce extra options.

“We plan to implement AI so Mindar can accumulate unlimited knowledge and speak autonomously. We also want to have separate sermons for different age groups to facilitate teachings,” Goto stated.

PHOTO: Mindar, a humanoid Buddhist deity, makes hand gestures to imitate human-like dialogue during sermons in Kyoto, Japan.

Mindar, a humanoid Buddhist deity, makes hand gestures to mimic human-like dialogue throughout sermons in Kyoto, Japan.

Kodaiji Temple

Regarding potential considerations {that a} robotic deity could possibly be thought-about sacrilegious, Goto was agency in his stance that Buddhism was about following Buddha’s method, not worshiping a god.

“The Buddhist goddess of mercy, Kannon, can change into anything. This time, Kannon was represented by a robot,” he stated.

Mindar epitomizes the ubiquity of robots in every day life in Japan, which produces 45% of the worldwide robotic provide, based on the International Federation of Robotics.

“We Japanese are very positive about accepting robots. If other countries recognize that it’s very convenient, they will use it too, even in religious fields,” Ishiguro stated.