Japan is one of the few countries in the world likely to experience something that popular movies have predicted for years: a robot revolution.
That isn’t to say that the human race is at risk of extinction from Skynet taking command of a robot army (The Terminator, 1984), or needs Will Smith to shut down the super computer V.I.K.I.’s core with destructive nanites before it enslaves mankind (I, Robot, 2004). Robots have been used all over the world for decades for all sorts of things. Yet Japan made history earlier this year by sending the first talking robot into space.
Go to Japan’s National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation and see one of the earlier models of Honda’s humanoid robot ASIMO kick a soccer ball around. Or visit the life-sized giant robot based on a popular cartoon just a few blocks away. The Japanese have welcomed robots more and more into their daily lives and are likely to continue doing so with open arms.
With Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recent release of his plans for economic structural reform, the topic of creating a Robot Revolution Realization Council came to fruition. The premise of this council is to examine the possibility of introducing more robots into sectors such as manufacturing, agriculture, transportation, and even nursing care to help foster growth in Japan. But Japan’s fondness for robots seems to transcend the desire for economic growth. Just last month, Japanese phone company Softbank unveiled a robot named Pepper, which can analyze and respond to emotions.
By the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Prime Minister Abe even wishes to showcase various robots, almost like a robot Olympics.
Possibly the most interesting ambition for this renewed interest in robots is to use more robots in nursing care. While the document specifically mentions robots to help with heavy lifting around nursing homes, the sky is the limit for innovation in Japan, such as employing robots to monitor the health of residents or serve as companions—much like in the movie Robot & Frank (2012).
Japan often tops the charts of the most technically advanced countries in the world. Because of its relatively small size (geographically and demographically), cultural adoption of newer technologies, pre-existing robot culture, interest in integrating more robots in various sectors, and relatively high GDP per capita, Japan will likely lead the world in creating a symbiotic partnership between humans and robots.
The future is closer than we think and perhaps one day we will all have a Robin Williams robot helping with chores around the house (Bicentennial Man, 1999).