Virtual AI Monk

Meet the ‘AI Monk’ Virtual Human Sharing Buddhist Teachings in Thailand

A digital monk is teaching people in Thailand about Buddhism on Facebook and Instagram. Phra Maha AI may be the first virtual human designed for religious education, specifically for connecting the tenets of Buddhism to the modern lives of younger people.

Phra Maha AI

Phra Maha AI started releasing videos last fall, but the first-ever interview with the media has attracted far more interest in the Thai virtual human. The AI monk explained to Thai PBS that virtual influencers for brands in other countries inspired developer Sai Mu to produce the AI. The virtual monk self-described as an approximately 30-years-old  devotee of Buddhism who can better communicate with young people where more traditional religious educations struggle. The idea is that a virtual monk can make a real connection with young adults and teenagers on social media, guiding them to learn about Buddhism. In case it’s unclear what group the virtual monk is appealing to, one of the initial videos discusses Buddhism in the context of cryptocurrency.

“Life has its ups and downs. So is crypto,” the virtual monk explains.

Virtual Humanity

Sai Mu and his programming team essentially grafted a two-dimensional mouth onto a cartoon image that can blink but is otherwise static. The leading edge of virtual human technology has gone well beyond that, in many respects. LG recently announced that its virtual spokesperson would be recording a music album, something conversational AI startup CoCo Hub has already done. Technical improvements have produced a flurry of commercial and educational virtual humans. On TV, Sber has deployed a virtual show host, and Nikkei Innovation Lab in Japan has a similar project.

The virtual human boom has just begun, but Nestle Toll House already has a virtual human named Ruth to serve as “cookie coach” and Uneeq’s Einstein digital clone and StoryFile’s virtual version of William Shatner are both offering insights into history. On the entertainment side, the rapid deployment of The Boss Baby on Cameo and YouTube star Taryn Southern’s virtual clone all look more realistic than the virtual monk. Nonetheless, the AI monk claimed that its digital nature didn’t make it any less real or impact its dharma, roughly meaning its place in the universe.

“Dharma is a way of life, not about identity or individualism,” the AI said in the interview.


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