In the August edition of the Japan Times, a group of Buddhist priest from Kodaiji temple in Kyoto presented the first ever robot Buddhist priest. It can memorize sutras and recite them in Chinese and Japanese. It can give sermons. The priests state that the robot cost $1 million and will attract young people because the robot is not an old “fuddy-duddy” like them. Was the robot worth the money?
Technology is no Substitute for Human Contact
The priests complained that the Japanese, especially the youth, are less religious today and that religion is only interesting for fuddy-duddies like them. This assumption demonstrates another issue, a more fundamental one: the lack of community in big cities, not just Japanese cities. The robot cannot build a rapport with those who visit the temple. It can neither listen, nor understand. It can just talk at people. Could it be that the reason the priests feel they are fuddy-duddies is that they are similar to the robot in that respect?
One of the things being an ALT on the JET Program taught me is that age is not an obstacle to building a rapport with the youth. Some of the most beloved teachers at my school are, well, some of the oldest. In one of my English classes, I had to ask students for a test, “Who is your greatest hero and why? “. A few answered one of their teachers and the reason was, “He was demanding of us. He was stern but we know he was this way with because he cared about us”. I think “because he cared about us” is the reason age does not matter.
Robots Can’t Create Interest
Sure, robots can attract interest but they can’t create it. Priests are, in a way, teachers. They teach their followers spirituality. Teachers teach by interacting with students. Teachers who just spew out material can be replaced by a video or a robot. Wouldn’t it be simpler for the priest to interact with the followers than to get a robot that acts as a lousy teacher?
Was the Robot Buddhist Priest Worth the Money?
I don’t think so. I think it is a very expensive novelty, a very expensive toy. Only people can guide, teach, and build communities.