Buddhist priest Bungen Oi holds a "deceased" AIBO robot dog after a funeral rite for the device. Image via Nicolas Datiche/AFP/Getty Images

450-Year-Old Temple Offers Memorial for 114 Robots

Buddhist scholars have famously contemplated for centuries the paradoxical Koan of whether dogs have ‘Buddha-nature’ or not, but according to one Buddhist temple in Japan, AIBO pet robots might indeed have souls worth sending off.

According to The Guardian, the 450-year-old Kofukuji temple near Tokyo recently held a funeral service for 114 irreparable AIBO robots as “incense wafted through the air as priests in traditional robes chanted sutras and prayed for the repose of their souls,” adding to the total of about 800 departed robotic dogs given a proper farewell from this realm.

An example of an AIBO, Sony’s once-popular robotic dog.Via Sony.

Launched in 1999, Sony’s doglike AIBO robots were once popular consumer electronics, selling more than 150,000 in a run of 7 years before the company stopped producing them. Similar to the Furby, another late ’90s robotics craze, some owners developed a deep affinity for their robotic canines, leading to heartbreak when Sony announced in 2014 that the firm would cease repairing malfunctioning AIBO bots.

Kofukuji temple holds religious ceremonies for the spirits of the departed electronics, opting to dispose of the dogs’ corporeal remains by salvaging them for usable parts. Many of the AIBO given to the temple are accompanied by farewell notes from saddened owners and heartfelt benedictions for the souls of other departed robo-pets.

The temple’s chief priest Bungen Oi reportedly saw no spiritual contradiction in the practice of holding funeral rites for the AIBO, saying that “all things have a bit of soul.”

While most AI researchers would conclude that a robotic toy such as AIBO almost certainly has nothing of the vast computational prowess and self-directed learning ability required for any meaningful intelligence of its own, within the coming decades AI systems might be developed with levels of intelligence rivaling domestic animals and perhaps even humans, raising questions of profound philosophical and religious import concerning the definition of personhood and the very nature of sentience and the soul.