The popularity of practical and actual incorporation of robots in everyday life has become rather customary in the way and manner of Japanese culture, preference, and choice of living. In this, the development of robotics has been relentlessly incessant and optimistically progressive to reach the vision of full employment of robots in every Japanese house in the very near future. However, with this vision in place, the road towards its realization bears both positive and negative for Japan’s welfare and wellbeing as a society and people.
Specific Impact and Effects of Robotics in Japan’s Culture and Systems
In this age of ever-progressive technological turn-over and express alteration in ingenuity, the global neighborhood of nations has made significantly positive and considerably detrimental changes in between upon the way of life. From an information and technology standpoint, the effects of the many changes have brought a wide array of both anticipated and unforeseen effects and outcomes upon culture, way of life, customs, and even with regard to the social, economic, and political systems of a country, which have been naturally and evidently felt and experienced by their people. The influence and impact of the rather rapidly continuing movement and advancement of technology and know-how has been undeniably identified and recognized for bettering the quality and general mode of life in a number of ways. Yet, at the same, there are noticeable trade-offs which have been encountered and have been difficult to elude and even dodge, for the scores of consequences these brought have been much widely prevalent and existent in the society which they have potently and extensively influenced. For the very technologically inclined and popularly, industrially high-tech nation of Japan, this has been the apparent and ostensible case with regard to the assortment of interconnected effects offered by the many technological changes in their well-known pioneering innovativeness in the field of disciplined science, knowledge, and skill, most particularly in their groundbreaking utilization and incorporation of robotics in the broad-spectrum definition of everyday lifestyle.
Definition of Robots and Robotics
In its many definitions and classifications, there are concepts and ideas which need to be known separately in order to better understand the holistic thought and notion of what robots exactly are and what robotics pertain to. As this is the case, the term robot can be identified as “a reprogrammable multifunctional manipulator designed to move material, parts, tools, or specialized devices, through variable programmed motions for the performance of a variety of tasks” (Rees, 1986, p. 172). Moreover, The Japanese Electrical Machinery Law of 1971 describes an industrial robot “as an all purpose machine, equipped with a memory device, and a terminal device (for holding things) and capable of rotation and of replacing human labor by automatic performance of movements”(Rees, 1986, p. 172). As the term robot is appropriately noted, the term robotics, on the other hand, can be categorized as a “range of technologies by which computers interact with the physical world including robot arms, mobility, sensing, and decision-making” (Rees, 1986, p. 172). In addition, robotics is directly associated with the “technology dealing with the design, construction and of robots in automation” (Merriam-Webster, 2009, n.p.). As specificities are distinguished, robots refer to the main subject matter, theme, and idea—the concrete devices and mechanism that are concretely and successively developed in the line of robotics, which pertains to its field of study. It must be noted, however, that though interchangeably similar, the two terminologies must not be confused with one another nor taken as one, as their relationship is rather complementary and not unitarily.
Brief History and Eventual Rise of Robotics in Japan
The different aspects of development in the line and field of robotics in Japan had its earliest beginnings and tracings in the earliest fractions of the nineteen sixties. The roots of this particularly technological segment of Japan’s history can be traced to the creation of the Karakuri-Ningyoh puppets during the Tokugawa period. However, “Japanese research and development into industrial robots began in 1967 following the introduction of the Unimate and Versatan robots in 1962” (Asai & Edwards, 1994, p.61). Then, eleven years following the invention of Unimate and Versatan robots, Japan held a demonstration of WABOT I, the earliest anthropomorphic robot. This robot is capable of making “a few slow steps in static equilibrium” by controlling it through a simple control system (Asai & Edwards, 1994, p.61). Though they made progress rather relatively early, Japan predominantly used outside foreign technology principally as key points of reference: “In all three development areas (robots, NC machines and semi conductors) the Japanese entered the field late. All of their work was developed using U.S. technology as a base” (Zeldman, 1984, p. 26). Japan’s persistence and drive for growth and progress of the utilization of robots and optimization of robotics has been most advantageous and rewarding, for it has substantiated their credibility and reputation as a technologically progressive nation: “As Japan became competent in the ‘technological art’, their emphasis shifted to the area of their post war strength— production engineering and quality control. In NC and robotics Japan caught up to and passed the U.S.” (Zeldman, 1984, p. 26). The dedication in robotics of Japan has enabled them to reach the prospective of diversification in the numerous fields of industry and trade by focusing on “communications, intelligence, actuation, power, architecture, standardization, and real-time processing” (Asai and Edwards, 1994, p. 61). As the much advancement in research, knowledge, and application were made feasible and possible, which eventually and exponentially evolved in every way, notable breakthroughs of Japanese robotics businesses and companies have been made and have been recognized across the world for their historically revolutionary technological progression. An example of a noteworthy breakthrough is the first ever humanoid robot called “P2,” presented by Honda in the mid-90‘s (Khatib & Siciliano, 2008, p 362). Currently, the leading industrial companies in Japan, including ASIMO (Honda), QRIO (Sony), and HRO (Kawada), continue to make impressive progress in the field of robotics (Khatib & Siciliano, 2008). Thus, as the history and use of robots came to full swing, a persisting change in the different aspects of life in Japan continuously occur, allowing the people to live more conveniently and rather more opportunely.
Positive Impact and Effects of Robotics in Japan
In many ways, the undyingly developing field of robotics has indeed positively transformed the face of Japan’s economy, the people’s traditional manner of living, industries, customs, and much more in between. Japanese robots and their pride and enthusiasm in robotics have made their way to the very weavings of what made the Japanese who they are today and what made the nation competitively ahead as a global giant in the trade of robotics technology: Nabeshima and Shahid (2006), author of “Postindustrial East Asian Cities: Innovation for Growth,” observe: “Japan’s robot industry is the world leader, and the Japanese manufacturing sector is the largest user of industrial” (p. 142).
In terms of Japan’s commerce manufacturing sectors, not only has robotics been an early, strong driving force in helping and maintaining the efficiency and effectiveness among the many technical processes involved in production of certain goods and commodities, but this early robotics integration has also boosted the quality and quantity of work done. By replacing the human operators with industrial robots, the productivity level has soared, specifically in the “automobile, electrical/electronics, and machinery factories” (Asai & Edwards, 1994, p. 62).
With regard to the industrial and economic competitive advantages of export relations, since Japan held their ground steadily in this certain field of technology, it was only expected for them to provide the rest of the world with top-notch variety of robot and robotics expertise and equipment. Consequently, industrial robots for export now comprise over 50% of the shipped goods (Nabeshima & Shahid, 2006).
Moreover, the set-up of the maximization of robotics in the industrial sector has been most ideal and preferred for labor for a better working environment on Japanese standards, especially when there are foreign workers around. This can be attributed to the fact that “machines do not enhance racial tensions by evoking wartime memories, as foreigners do” (Robertson cited in Wheelock, 2007, n.p.).
In addition, Japan has not only developed into a country that has been known for their substantial proficiency and capability in robotics, but they have been able to make use of it to help other nations with their technological needs. The Japanese robotics industry shows even more promise and potential. As reported by the Sydney Morning Herald (2005), in 2007, Japan sought to produce “760 billion yen (6.5 billion US dollars) worth of robotics,” expected a 3.9% growth in 2006, and aims to reach one trillion yen worth of production come 2010 (n.p.). This puts the Japanese government in great position for trade, commerce, and business negotiation and relations with other countries when it comes to their robotic technology and know-how, for the future brings greater probability for success and growth and the industry, which would trickle eventually and naturally to the overall economy of the Japanese nation.
The science of robotics would also provide solutions for the imminent and troubling dilemmas the nation of Japan would be facing such as the decreasing birthrate. As a result, the Japanese government conceptualized Innovation 25, “a visionary blueprint for revitalizing and roboticizing Japanese society – and the household – by 2025” (Robertson cited in Wheelock, 2007, n.p.) Japanese robotics has not only served as a dependable means for bettering their quality of life, but more importantly, in a sense, the requirement of preservation and perpetuation of both the culture and race has relied on a planned design for robots and robotics to take a significant role in every aspect of Japanese life and living, which is realistically attainable with its continuing progress.
Their vision of robotic empowerment and employment harmonizes very well their spiritual and religious beliefs due to the Japanese heritage, traditions, and beliefs, including their “traditional crafts such as karakuri ningyo (automata), animistic Shinto beliefs, and Buddhist teachings concerning the interconnectedness of all animate and inanimate beings” (Mori, 1981 cited in Sabanovic, n.d., n.p.). Tatsuya Matsui, designer of humanoid robots, was even quoted to say in an interview that “robots are not only designed for utilitarian purposes, but to function ‘the same as flowers—something that speaks directly to the soul’” (cited in Sabanovic, n.d., n.p.).
In their vast technical, prolific capability and capacity among the grounds of humanoid technology, Japan robotics has brought new levels and meaning to a better condition of living and sense of livelihood. In terms of dental and medical healthcare, “The medical simulation robot, named ‘Simroid’, is designed to be used in clinical training at dental schools. It can also listen to instructions and react to pain by moving its eyes or hands” (Russian News, 2007, n.p.). In terms of elderly healthcare, a humanoid robot was especially designed for the elderly to help them with the household chores and aid them in rising from the bed and preparing meals (Russian News, 2007). Japanese robotics has provided not only enhanced benefits for the layman, but more essentially for those who make available services of healthcare themselves which in effect improve the entirety of the healthcare system, as its suits their situation and vision as a nation who wishes to integrate robots to complete usage in every sense. In terms of the educational systems, Japanese robotics has also had made its way into the Japanese’s futuristic and ever cutting-and-leading edge vision of full utilization of robots in every facet of life possible. The robot teacher named “Saya” is to take the place of the rather traditional and conventional child educator with an android that is “multilingual, can organize set tasks for pupils, call the roll, and get angry when the kids misbehave” (FoxNews.com, 2009, n.p.). Hence, Japanese robotics has made possible the dual offering of solutions and alternatives in meeting and answering needs that could not only make the educational process more well-organized, but companies have the option to employ and android as part of their employee roster.
Thus, in a wide-ranging scope of ways, Japanese robotics has held distinct flexible advantages in serving industries and segments of society no matter how seemingly distant they may be from one another— its reach has deeply imprinted into the hearts and minds of its people.
Negative Impact and Effects of Robotics in Japan
Indeed, there are irrefutable gains, but in the many rewarding and valuable contributions to different part and components of society, there are also some notable setbacks as well which are to be noted as offered by the technological brand culture of Japan: “discussions about the meaning of ‘robot culture’ do not depend solely on technological constraints, but must include the particular cultural, social, historical, ethical and psychological dynamics of these new socio-technical systems” (Sabanovic, n.d., n.p.).
In alignment to the Japanese vision of incorporating robot technology in every aspect of culture and way of life and their high interest in machine assimilation, the Japanese identity has been deemed as rather dispassionate: “This reinforces the ‘techno-Orientalist’ (Ueno, 2002) image of Japanese culture as ‘cold, impersonal and machine-like, an authoritarian culture lacking emotional connection to rest of the world’” (Morley & Robins cited Sabanovic, n.d., n.p.) These deemed beliefs among Japanese as a culture, people, and nation bring potential causes for worry in terms of relating with fellow neighboring countries as such labels are directly stamped in and associated with their culture and upbringing.
In the advent of Japanese robotics at every household, there is a risk of challenging the authenticity and realism of parent and child relationship. While the parents are not at home, they can monitor their children through the robotic caretaker that is able to send images to cell phones. The children, on the other hand, generally obey the robotic guardian, which is set to take the role of the parents while they are away (Wheelock, 2007, n.p.). The acknowledgement that such realities are taking place amongst Japanese households may speak of many conveniences for parents, especially to those who hold a busy and hectic work schedule. However, such convenience presents a tradeoff that cannot be easily dismissed. In every sense, it disputes the very meaning of family and very roots of the nation separately per home after home—as the family is the most basic and smallest unit which makes a society. The sway and strength of Japanese robot culture has made access to the subconscious belief of Japanese parents that with this type of expediency and discipline at their disposable, it follows that a machine can stand in for real human interaction in terms of care, comfort and love that is naturally provided the human facility and ability.
With regard to human susceptibility, not only does this apply in the household, but there is also a bigger reality depiction which needs to be better appreciated. Japan’s robot culture strengths are closely followed by its threats in the different divisions of society:
The development of socially-oriented robotic technologies also calls us to must consider the limitations and capabilities of our social institutions (family, friends, schools, government) and the pressures they face in supporting and caring for children and the elderly (e.g. both parents working longer and longer hours, dissolution of extended family and reliance on a nuclear family model, ageism and the medicalization of the elderly (Sabanovic, n.d., n.p.).
The very prominent robot culture of Japan has crossed the borders of the very society of its people in their aspirations of a better future. However, it is the same ambition which has made such off-putting upshot in effect, though subtly from a Japanese citizen’s mind.
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