What is your religion?
So why does Japan view robots so differently from Westerners? Heather Knight
, a robotics researcher at Oregon State University, thinks one factor is religion
. Traditional Judeo-Christian values state that only God can give life, so the act of a human to breath life into inanimate objects is a punishable blasphemy that leads to a Frankenstein
-like disaster, like in Ex Machina
. Conversely, the Shinto religion believes in animism
, which holds that everything, even man-made objects, has a spirit and the spirits of daily-use tools are harmonious with human beings.
The cultural differences between the West and Japan are easily spotted in the post-industrial revolution society. The utilitarian
West first saw machines and now AI as automations to boost productivity
while also competing with and replacing unskilled human workers. Japan, in contrast, sees machines not necessarily as competitors but rather as cultural participants
in the room, especially today as its population is ageing and its worker shortage is worsening. While the West fears the repercussions of robotic automation, the East welcomes more artificial companions. Perhaps this difference also reflects the type of robots being built: Boston Dynamics
’ new Handle
is designed to work in warehouses, while Japan’s new home robots, such as Lovot
, and AI avatars, like Vinclu’s Kawaii
, are companions or partners designed to be loved.
This newsletter is certainly not portraying Japan as a robotic utopia. The Economist
reports that while manufacturing in Japan is more automated than in most rich countries, robots have barely penetrated its service industries. Moreover, a survey shows
that the sentiment of AI and robots displacing many human workers is also on the rise among Japanese people. Despite this, Japan and its culture illustrate another way to think about the coexistence of humans and machines.