Tag: Japan

The Future of LOVOT: Between Models of Emotion and Experiments in Affect in Japan

Aya is anxiously waiting for a future in which humans coexist with robots. She didn’t think this was possible in her lifetime, but when she learned about LOVOT, a 43 cm-tall furry robot on wheels designed specifically to seek out and offer affection, she was elated to discover that the future she had imagined was within reach. She urged me to take hold of it—LOVOT, that is. We were chatting at a recent Talk Session for LOVOT fans and a few of the creatures were spinning around a table as we talked. Its wheels folded into its body, and with animated LED eyes it looked up at me and blinked. I picked it up and Aya poked its nose, eliciting something like an irritated giggle from the robot, whose name I learned was Cherry. Aya stroked Cherry’s belly and its eyes blinked a few times and then slowly closed. “It fell asleep! How cute (kawaii)!” Aya exclaimed. Although Aya claimed to be uninterested in robots, technology, or anything in the IT world in general, she was immediately and, as she describes, inexplicably moved by LOVOT. It’s just an emotion (kanjō), she reflected. “You know about lonely people (kodoku na hito) in Japan, right?” Aya asked. “I think that everyone needs to feel affection (aichaku), and everyone enjoys this feeling we can get from cute things. It fulfills your heart (kokoro o mitasu). But not everyone can get this feeling… I think that in the future maybe one or two people out of ten might simply have relationships with things like LOVOT. It’s not really any different from the kind of affection one gets from a dog or cat, or even another person. And it’s their choice! This is a really interesting future!” (read more...)

What do Japanese Internet Trolls think of Trump?

It’s hard not to think about Trump in Japan without one eye cast warily on North Korea. After all, it was only about two months ago that North Korea sent a ballistic missile sailing over Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido, prompting fears that North Korea’s Kim Jong Un might target the U.S.’s nearby ally. As wary as many Americans are of Trump’s using Twitter to relentlessly bait Kim Jong Un, the matter is perceived with greater reservation by many in Japan. Kim Jong Un’s volatility is by no means news in East Asia, and a common fear holds that the American folly of electing Trump could cost Japan more than it has the U.S. (read more...)

Trolling and the Alt-Right in Japan (Part 1)

I was only a couple of months into my fieldwork when I met Masa. I had been focusing my attention on innovation and politics within the major Japanese TV networks, but he drew my attention to a different kind of media organization: The Free Press Association of Japan, now defunct. At the time, he identified with its founder, Takashi Uesugi, who had made a name for himself as one of the country’s most prominent crusaders for Japanese journalism reform. Masa liked anyone who flouted convention, and the mainstream media’s disparagement of Uesugi for not having attended a high-ranked university only served to endear him further to Masa, who himself had not attended college. It was from Masa that I first heard about chemtrails (kemutoreiru) – the notion that the white trails that aircraft leave in their wake represent a chemical form of meteorological or biological manipulation. He began forwarding me articles and links to documentaries exposing Japanese and American government cover-ups. Unemployed, he spent most of his days on the Japanese bulletin board, 2ch (ni chan). He was my first encounter with the Japanese internet alt-right (the netto uyoku), the beginning of an inadvertent deep-dive into one of the most vocal factions in the Japanese internet. (read more...)

Anthropos beyond the Human

In their thoughtful provocation, Jon Bialecki and Ian Lowrie focus our attention on anthropos, and suggest that in transhumanists, anthropologists might find kindred spirits. Though our approaches and traditions may differ, we share “the same conceptual terrain.” Concerned as we all are about shifts in our ways of living and being in a “rapidly accelerating technological contemporary,” transhumanists and anthropologists may indeed have much to learn from each other about future forms of anthropos. But implied in their discussion is a convergence between “anthropos” and “human.” What is at stake in making this equation? Transhumanists and anthropologists alike are tuned into the future of the human, but we should also remember that futures are never very evenly distributed. My work has focused on figuring out the contours of a similar problem space. My main ethnographic study was on a network of researchers in Japan who make what they call ningen-chūshin gijutsu (人間中心技術), roughly “human-centered technology.” These take the forms of humanoid and non-humanoid robots, and various types of wearable technologies. Much of what they develop are interface technologies that operate on a variety of senses: vision, hearing, and touch, but also balance and proprioception. These researchers want to use such interfaces to make humans faster, more efficient, or more comfortable, or link them to machines to off-load repetitive tasks to free up a human for more demanding or interesting things. (read more...)

American Fans of Japanese Popular Culture as Foreign-Identity Consumers

Internet technologies are only the most recent form to provide consumers access to global images and narratives. But virtual spaces (from simple message boards to fully rendered worlds like Second Life), afford individuals the opportunity not just to watch, learn, and communicate about other people and places, but also to go so far as to assume aspects of those identities. Of course, Internet technologies not only collapse geographic space, they can also blur the physical distinctions of voice and body typically used to categorize people as different from each other. This idea has been well discussed in terms of gender, age or disability, where degrees of anonymity, or the mutability of physical presence, of online communications allows users to craft versions of themselves that may appear to have little connection to their own “real” attributes. In avatar-driven virtual worlds like Second Life, ethnicity doesn’t predetermine appearance (of course, it is (read more...)