Anyone who thinks of robots and artificial intelligence always thinks of Japan. Our vision of the future is based on the images created and released in the tech-savvy nation. Why does fantasy blossom there so free of worries?
Hiroshi Ishiguro likes to provoke. He says things like "weaving robots into human society" or that he can soon "build awareness" for them. When journalists from the West visit, he offers to kiss his android Erica. So far no one wanted that - at least not in front of the camera. Erica is modeled after a 23-year-old Japanese woman, supposedly combining the looks of 30 women in her looks, and is said to be "the smartest Android" on the planet, according to her creator. Those who enter the world of robonautics meet many superlatives.
Popular inventors like Ishiguro are adept at self-marketing and not uncontroversial in the scene. But they fulfill their purpose, and their exotic inventions transport the desired image, especially abroad. In recent years, a veritable competition between nations has flared up, who is the first to achieve a breakthrough in robotics. Probably the mood before the moon landing was not much different.
Every few months, new inventions are presented at the tech fairs and go through the media worldwide: the two-legged robot Cassie of Oregon State University, the humanoid Sophia of Hanson Robotics in Hong Kong or the Nasa-developed super robot Valkyrie, which is to fly into space , But Japan, once the number one robot nation, lost some of its ties after the 2011 tsunami. But the island state is currently fighting back to the world stage. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is the driving force behind it. What was proclaimed by him as a program before 2007 with "Innovation 25" is now called "Robot Revolution Initiative", an action plan with which the German platform Industrie 4.0 also wants to cooperate.
When Abe formulated his vision more than ten years ago, the country still produced 52 percent of all operational industrial robots in the world. It should continue at this rate: by 2016, 18.6 million households should have robots to help them with their daily lives, according to the government's strategy paper. There was even talk of mechanical babysitters and nationwide use of care robots in retirement homes. But despite generous subsidies for development, the prognosis has not come true: the children and the elderly are still being cared for by people and apart from intelligent vacuum cleaners and light regulators, the vast majority of Japanese people have to manage their lives without robots.
Why do image and reality of the robot-affine society diverge so much? There are many reasons for this: On the one hand, the political slogans overlay the current application possibilities. Just opening a door, getting milk out of the fridge or avoiding a toy on the ground is a complex challenge for robots. On the other hand, the apartments in Japan for western standards are rather small - so where with a large machine? And last but not least, robots are very expensive to buy, comparable to a small car.
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