Robot-Human Relations Dominate Japanese Innovation
Hello World travels to Japan to examine the longtime fascination Japanese inventors have had with robotics.
While the content creators at HBO are exploring how humans interact with robots on its new show Westworld, the innovation explorers at Bloomberg Businessweek’s Hello World are traveling east to visit real-life inventors who envision robots and humans cohabitating in Japan in the near future.
The fascination with robots isn’t exclusive to Japan or Japanese culture, but advances in robotics technology are emerging across Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. Hello World host, author and journalist Ashlee Vance visits each city and several educational labs to learn more about how robots are becoming more and more lifelike and intelligent—thanks to sensors and artificial intelligence software.
Professor Takashi Ikegami at the University of Tokyo has created an android that looks out into the world and reacts to what it sees with the help of autonomous algorithm generators and artificial neural networks. With the help of all the external input, it is hoped the robot will form its own personality and perhaps even its own language.
“Once we have a bunch of lifelike systems around us, our concept of what is life will change,” Ikegami says. And in the future, “we will learn how to peacefully coexist with robots and androids.”
Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro at Osaka University is also attempting robot-human coexistence. Specifically, he is studying and experimenting with to what degree robots can be imbued with life via his creation called Erica. She acts as the reception to the robotics lab at the university and interacts with visitors and scientists.
Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro from Osaka University in Japan and his lifelike android creation, Erica.
“Our challenge is to instill intention and desire into the robot. Without it, the android cannot be emotional and it cannot understand the desires and intentions of others,” Ishiguro says.
As for Erica’s desires? “Erica wants to be well-recognized. She is the receptionist of the lab,” Ishiguro explains.
While the robotics work at universities in Japan echoes the premise of Ex-Machina, the scientists at Hitachi are striving to make robotics a helpful part of people’s everyday lives in Japan. Emiew and Ropits are two endeavors that could become how humans cohabitate with robots in the future.
Emiew is a friendly, helper robot designed with AI and speech recognition to offer directions and assistance to humans. And Ropits is a slow-moving, open-air autonomous vehicle developed to help the elderly enjoy outdoor living even after their physical activity has been limited. Inventors at Hitachi hope to get Emiew’s price down to below the cost of a car.
Upon testing each, Vance concludes Japanese inventors are imagining “a beautiful, utopian future with smart robots attending to all our needs, but the future remains the future.”