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A Robot Monk Captivates China, Mixing Spirituality With Artificial Intelligence

BEIJING — Po, the information-seeking hero of the “Kung Fu Panda” films, would possibly recognize this temple in China where the world’s first robot monk dwells. For Po’s Jade Palace, there may be Longquan (Dragon Spring) Temple, a place of Buddhist worship in the mountains northwest of Beijing, wherein gnarled gingko and cypress timber tower over pink-walled buildings underneath rocky Phoenix Ridge.

For his corridor of Warriors, there is the comedian center deep in the temple, on the give up of winding stone paths and steps, beyond a flower-formed audio tool that crackles sutras.

As for Po himself, there’s Xian’er, the two-foot-tall, recommendation-meting out robotic whose complete name is worth stupid robotic Monk. (within the Beijing dialect, “er,” or “silly,” is a term of affection.)

No longer so much “Kung Fu Panda three,” perhaps, as “robot Monk 1.”

A childlike creature in an orange Buddhist robe, Xian’er is an object of fascination in China amid an increasingly more pressing pursuit of spirituality and, greater these days, artificial intelligence. But Xian Fan, the head of the comedian center, advised countrywide commercial enterprise day by day that the temple did now not plan to commercialize the robot and that its improvement became for “the public welfare.”

And the priests do now not appear to be making plans a franchise. There’s best one robotic monk, for now, Xian Fan instructed Beijing news, including, “We’re now not doing this for commerce, but simply due to the fact we need to use more cutting-edge ways to spread Buddhist teachings.”

The robotic turned into created final year via the temple in collaboration with about a dozen Chinese generation, tradition and funding businesses, in step with Chinese information reviews. However, the character of Xian’er became first designed with the aid of artists at the comic center for a 2014 Buddhist comic ebook collection, whose first title was “troubles Are Self-Made.” The series has offered nicely in Chinese bookstores, and an English-language version is due out soon.

As a robotic, Xian’er has multiplied his repertoire. He has a touchpad on his chest that lets him to reply to supplicants’ questions and statements, together with: “who are your parents?” “I’m now not glad” and “what is the meaning of existence?”

On Wednesday morning, personnel on the comedian center declined to let site visitors talk immediately with Xian’er, announcing he was — literally — recharging if you want to meet a delegation of presidency officers from Beijing later inside the day. They would now not say who the officers were or provide their personal names, pronouncing they were no longer legal to talk to the news media.

Irrespective of. there was usually Weixin, or WeChat, in which Xian’er maintains an account. (Readers can locate him beneath ?????.)

really no sentimentalist, his answers to the above queries had been:

· “That’s ridiculous, how can robots have parents?”

· “if you’re no longer happy, what can everybody else do approximately it?”

· “My master says the that means of lifestyles is to assist extra humans ultimately go away in the back of bitterness and benefit happiness.”

Po would possibly have accredited.

Many site visitors to Longquan Temple on Wednesday, but, expressed doubt whether Xian’er may want to without a doubt assist people with their troubles, although some stated they anticipated generation to develop so quickly that future generations of robotic priests may. A 2nd, smarter Xian’er is already an improvement, a middle worker said.

“I haven’t visible it, however, I’ve heard of it,” Zhang Ping, a middle-aged lady who was traveling the temple, said of the robot monk.

“It relies on variations and mixtures of phrases to solve problems, however, whether it may truly deal with deep private problems, I’m now not positive,” Ms. Zhang stated. “Absolutely everyone is special. For some, those may be about own family, for others, about work. But have a look at how speedy artificial intelligence is progressing. In twenty years, I assume it’s completely possible it is going to be capable of.”

Some other templegoer disagreed. “I don’t assume it’s viable for the intelligence of a robot to be advanced enough to recognize human emotions,” said Wang Yiren, 23, a Buddhist and volunteer on the temple. “The robotic doesn’t truly live as much as my expectancies. But I’ve seen robots in other elements of the arena that can talk with people, and that’s pretty first-rate.”

He Haikun, 33, a female who become journeying the temple with a friend, stated: “if you have no one to talk to, maybe it’d assist to speak to a robotic.”

Here are a few other solutions provided by Xian’er, through WeChat:

Q: “what is love?”

A: “Love is your own obsessions now not being satisfied, the clashing of other human beings’ issues with yours.”

Q: “I don’t want to paintings.”

A: “if you don’t need to starve and feature an O.ok. the process, paintings difficult.”

Q: “I need to die.”

A: “Don’t expect you’re the maximum pathetic individual within the global.”

Q: “who’s Xi Jinping [the president of China]?”

A: “A robot doesn’t understand any humans.”

And eventually:

Q: “ought to there be some other Cultural Revolution?”

A: “Wait, I’m able to ask my grasp.”

Po would have been envious of Xian’er for being able to bypass a difficult question on to his master, having been required in “Kung Fu Panda three” to remedy his network’s troubles himself.

The robotics companies Cabot and Turing robotic Industries, a few of the organizations stated in Chinese language news reports as operating with the temple to produce Xian’er, agreed to answer questions about the task, however, had no longer spoke back as of Wednesday night. At Interjoy, some other enterprise listed as one of the designers, and others, the smartphone rang unanswered.