A “robot priest” adorned with Buddhist robes and a hi-resolution tablet is now programmed to perform funeral rites for less cost than a human.

Japanese plastic molding maker Nissei Eco Co. created software for Pepper The Robot enabling the humanoid to chant Buddhist mantras and recite sutras typically performed by monks at funerals.

First introduced in 2014 by Japanese telecommunications company, SoftBank Group Corp., Pepper is a human-shaped robot that welcomes customers to more than 140 SoftBank Mobile stores. The robot boasts several cameras and microphones in addition to its sophisticated AI ability to perceive and respond to human emotions. 

Michio Inamura, a Nissei executive adviser, tells Reuters that Japan’s aging and declining population has led to Buddhist priests receiving less financial backing in communities and working outside of their temple duties to make ends meet. The programmable Pepper “funeral robot” is now available to replace a human priest, often a very costly process. Renting Pepper costs around 50,000 yen ($450) per funeral in comparison to 240,000 yen ($2,200) for human priests.

The robot displayed its funeral rite capabilities – including sutras chanted in a computerized voice and a drum ritual -- at a Wednesday funeral industry event in Tokyo, the Life Ending Industry Expo.

The tech mogul leading Pepper’s Softbank creator, Chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son has attended several public events in the past to show off the human-like robots’ interactive, autonomous ability to be a genuine humanoid companion. Son has previously stated that the point in which machine intelligence will surpass humans will happen by 2047. In addition to tech and robot fairs, Pepper has been introduced to several world leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Soft Bank’s robotics web page describes Pepper’s capability to mimic a human friend: “You can also personalize your robot by downloading the software applications that take your fancy, based on your mood or the occasion. Dance, play, learn or even chat in another language, Pepper adapts himself to you!” reads Pepper’s description.

“Your robot evolves with you. Pepper gradually memorizes your personality traits, your preferences, and adapts himself to your tastes and habits,” the page continues.

Some skeptics have expressed concern with a robots’ ability to understand faith and religion – not to mention the robots’ lack of a soul or spiritual awareness. Last month, the story of a mall security robot "dying" in a fountain raised eyebrows among those who don't see a blurring line between artificial intelligence and human beings.

Buddhist priest Tetsugi Matsuo told Reuters he visited the Life Ending Industry Expo to see if Pepper was up to the task for bringing the “heart aspect to a machine because I believe that the ‘heart’ is the foundation of religion.”

Although several demonstrations of Pepper’s funeral performance have made rounds at AI events, the for-hire robot priest is yet to oversee one.