I came across a short video from the BBC that, if you’ve been keeping up with the posts here on Plastic Pals, doesn’t really show anything new. It reminded me how much it irks me that every news story about Japanese robots has to drag up the old adage that the Japanese are more accepting of robots than those of us in the Western world. And is the Shinto religion really the best explanation for this phenomenon? Might it have something to do with the kind of robots they make compared to our own?
I also think popular culture has a lot to do with it. For the past 30 years, our kids have been gobbling up Japanese pop culture in the form of video games, tv shows, animation, and comics like it was crack cocaine. I grew up playing Nintendo games, watching shows like Astro Boy and Transformers, and saw anime and manga go from a niche to mainstream market in the ’90s boom. Now kids all over the world have grown up with the idea of robots as friends, robots as powered suits, and yes, robots as archetypal villains too.
When I see news stories of people interacting with robots, even older generations, I see a look of fascination on their faces, not fear. There is a clear divide though, and it’s in the kind of robots we make. If, as it is so often suggested, we in the West are worried about Terminators exterminating the human race, or enslaving us in a Matrix, why is it that we’re the ones developing increasingly sophisticated UAV Predators in a never ending race for battlefield supremacy?
Of course, you still see people saying a robot like ASIMO is “creepy”, yet they don’t bat an eyelash at the grainy snuff footage flowing out of Iraq and Afghanistan, captured by robots as they fire on indistinguishable targets. How weird is that?
The rather innocuous video.