Robots. Better than people?

Fascinating article in The Economist about the love of Japanese for robots. Made me think of the conversation i had with Roger Ibars about karakuri.

With too few workers supporting an ageing population, Japan is learning how to make robots that can do many of jobs that immigrant workers would be delighted to get. But the country’s keen interest in robots also reflects the fact that Japanese really like dealing with robots.

Wheile in western popular culture, robots are often a threat, most Japanese view robots as friendly and benign. Most Japanese take an eclectic approach to religious beliefs, and the native religion, Shintoism, is infused with animism: it does not make clear distinctions between inanimate things and organic beings.


Japanese popular culture has also consistently portrayed robots in a positive light, ever since Japan created Tetsuwan Atomu, in 1951.

Although they are at ease with robots, many Japanese are not as comfortable around other people, especially foreigners. It is impossible to embarrass a robot, or be embarrassed, by saying the wrong thing. Therefore, argues The Economist“>The Economist, many Japanese seem to like robot versions of living creatures precisely because they are different from the real thing.

An example is AIBO. There is a big difference between Japanese and American consumers. American tend to be computer geeks who want to hack the dog’s programming. Most Japanese consumers like AIBO because it is a clean, safe and predictable pet.


To understand how Japanese might find robots less intimidating than people, Karl MacDorman, researcher at Osaka University, has been investigating eye movements, using headsets that monitor where subjects are looking. When answering questions put by another Japanese, the subjects made eye contact around 30% of the time. But when they talk to Hiroshi Ishiguro‘s android, ReplieeQ1, they were much more likely to look it in the eye.

Eventually, interactive robots are going to become more common. In other rich countries as well. As we´ll be spending time with them, we are likely to develop emotional reactions to such lifelike machines.

Via robotics.