Taking over our lives or making them easier?
With the prevalence of advanced technology, such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality, coupled with improved understanding of machines, it is increasingly common for the public to come across or even own a robot. The household robot is heading to people’s homes at an increasing rate, one beyond our wildest dreams. Interestingly, research finds indicate that the U.S. and Japan hold distinctly different attitudes towards and perceptions of personal robots. This article will discuss the distinctions in both the American and Japanese perspectives. The two countries both have sophisticated robotics, and a relatively high rate of adoption of robots.
Let’s start with the basics: types of bots
A personal robot can be defined as “one whose human interface and design makes it useful in helping, entertaining, or providing comfort to, humans, or even pets”. In general, robots introduced thus far can be classified into several types based on distinctive functions and appearances. These include utility robots (Roomba) which perform specific household chores such as dish-washing and floor-cleaning. The second category is social robots which can follow voice command by communicating with people. Likewise, humanoid robots and mechanical robots also fall under the term “robot” although one is more human-like and the other, machine-like.
Varying customer attitudes towards robots in the U.S. and Japan
In a nutshell, how people from different countries perceive various types of robots can essentially reflect their domestic cultural background and values. According to Nomura Research Institute, Ltd., the majority of Japanese hold positive attitudes towards robots, and tend to associate “robots” with the words “humanoid robot”, one which can live and talk with people. This can be attributed to the fact that robot anime (a popular form of Japanese film and TV animation) forms a part of many Japanese childhoods. There is a particularly strong acceptance of the presence of health care personal robots due to Japan’s concerns over a growing, ageing population.
Alternatively, the U.S. shows the highest robot adoption rate both at home and in retail stores, and people’s worries far outweigh their expectations concerning growing robot permeation. Over 70% of Americans express wariness or concern over a scenario where a high proportion of jobs are being replaced by robots, according to Pew Research. It can be seen that Americans perceive robots to be more threatening and evil, as opposed to being lovely and helpful, as they’re seen in Japan. A good example of the general American feeling is the Resident Evil movie series where a highly-advanced computer called ‘Red Queen’ says, “You’re all going to die down here” to trapped survivors. Another example is from the sci-fi film, Aliens, in which a cyborg created by humans shows extraordinary intelligence and betrays another group of humans at the end.
Robotic Society vs Uncanny Valley
Predictably, it is an irreversible trend that robots will coexist with humans in the future. Therefore, it is just a matter of time before the coming of the era of a ‘Robotic Society’. In Japan, despite the high acceptance of such an idea among the public, Japanese consumers consider that there is still a long way to go before stepping into a ‘Robotic Society’, given the current shortage in expertise. In addition, most of them feel they will be less inclined to own a robot in the near future. This study reveals that the ‘Robotic Society’ in Japan is still at a premature stage.
By contrast, the U.S. is much more enthusiastic about the prevalence of robots in people’s daily lives. At present, a great number of companies in Silicon Valley, California, are specialising in cutting-edge robots and A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) technologies. Thus, there is considerable likelihood that the U.S. will keep pioneering the marketplace in terms of subsequent innovative robotics. However, there is an intangible and hindering wall on the horizon, in the form of the advent of overly “human-like” robots. This idea evokes a certain level of revulsion among human beings. This phenomenon is known as “Uncanny Valley”, introduced by Japanese roboticist, Masahiro Mori, in 1970. His study revealed people’s likeability towards robots dramatically falls to the lowest level when a robot is made to look almost human.
In summary, the differences in U.S. and Japanese robotic development trends are considered to be largely influenced by the sense of values and preferences of the population of each country. This poses a huge challenge for global technology companies: to develop robots matching the aesthetics and culture values of different countries.
By Ashily Fung
Featured Image Credit: https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/japan-box-office-big-hero-763259
Second Image Credit: https://screenrant.com/alien-covenant-ending-walter-david-twist-explained/3/
Background Image Credit: https://img.thedailybeast.com/image/upload/v1494656791/articles/2017/05/11/how-japan-s-history-and-culture-condone-rape/170510-Adelstein-japan-rape-tease_snsqbd.jpg
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