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Robotics Revolution: Man vs Machine – Case Study on Japan

Robotics RevolutionThe idea of ‘Automata’ originates from the mythologies of many cultures across the globe. Early inventors and engineers from ancient civilisation such as Greek, Chinese or Ptolemaic Egyptian attempted to develop a self-operating or automated machine resembling humans and animals. The term ‘Robot’ comes from the Czech word “Robota” refers to “Forced Work or Labor” which was first used to refer the word ‘Artificial Automata’ in a 1920 play R.U.R (Rossum’s Universal Robots) by the Czech interwar writer ‘Karl Capek.’ In 1928, one of the first ‘Humanoid Robots’ invented by W.H.Richards, delivered a speech in the annual event of the ‘Model Engineers Society’ in London.

The brief history shows that ‘Robots’ are not a new innovation but is a ‘Thinking Machine’ which is programmed by a computer and is capable of doing complex series’ of actions automatically. Robots can be semi-autonomous to autonomous which range from humanoids to industrial robots, patient assistant robots, medical operating robots, to nanorobots. While the UAVs or drone robots have a long history, dating back to the Renaissance period, Leonardo Da Vinci’s design for a ‘Robotic Knight,’ including things like German remote-controlled Torpedo boats during the First World War. However, robots have become more sophisticated with technological advancements…which are expected not just to proliferate industry…but also reconceptualise in the coming decade.

The “Robot Revolution” will transform the face of the Global Economy phenomenally in the next twenty years by significantly cutting the costs of doing business and exacerbating social inequality, as ‘Robots’ might potentially take over every job, from flipping burgers to caring for elderly, according to the latest study. These disruptions are bringing in a paradigm shift which will change the way a human being lives, communicates, and works. The penetrations of Artificial Intelligence and Robots have hit every industry vertical and is becoming an integral part of our daily lives.

Growing concerns about humans being replaced by machines are not new and are justified to a certain extent from my perspective. However, The relationship between jobs and robots is not as concrete as it is being portrayed. I firmly do believe that there are jobs which only man can perform and cannot be replaced by a robot. When you have robots perform specific jobs more efficiently, you are just building a productive and cohesive environment and society. Moreover, societies and organisations have always found ways of turning the technological evolution only to their advantage.

This next wave of exponential technological growth is powered by Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and Cloud Computing. The automation which is seen only in movies will now be seen in our homes too. A digital super-connected world with endless possibilities. The world’s half of all the robots are in Asia, Europe – 32%, NA – 16%, Australia – 1%, Africa – 1% and 30% of all the robots in the world are in Japan. Japan is the world leader in the Robotics Technology and is said to be the “Robotic Capital” of the world, and the Japenese government is trumpeting robotics as a pillar of its growth strategy where robots and human-beings co-exist. In this exclusive case study on Japan, let me walk you through the robotics innovations and how in Japan, Robots are displacing some of the human workforces.

Robots pretty much see the world the way we do, but there is a vast difference between seeing the world and understanding it. Just to be able to move around and do tasks, robots need to identify every single object around them by comparing it against the whole database of things. They also have to gauge direction and depth by comparing the sizes of things to each other, and they will have to recognise people by analysing each of their individual features. We do not think how a robot makes sense of our world. Similarly, we do not think twice about why a robot looks the way it does.

1. Henn-a Hotel:

The world’s first hotel run by robots. It is the largest concentration of robots in a single hotel. The hotel’s owner, Hideo Sawada, says he wants to make it different by reducing the workforce and replacing its 90% of the workforce with robots right from the front desk to the porter.. The one area where the hotel still relies on humans is the security personnel. The hotel is dotted with security cameras, and the real people monitor the CCTV to ensure the safety and security of their guests and also to ensure no one makes off with an expensive robot.

In this hotel meet Erica:

2. Android Erica: 

Eric is a robot who can not only make jokes but also has a ‘soul’, according to her creator…and who is learning to develop compassion! Erica is also pipped to be a Japanese news presenter sometime this year and could make a national debut. Hirshi Ishiguro – director of the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory, part of the Department of Systems Innovation who calls himself Erica’s “Father”, said that “she is the most beautiful, human-like and autonomous android in this world”. The robot cannot move her arms but can work out where the sound is coming from so; Erica knows the person speaking with her. She also boasts 14 infra-red depth sensors, to track where people are in the room, and facial recognition capability. Erica is the super-realistic bot blurring the lines between woman and machine. Erica was created as part of JST Erato – one of the most highly-funded science projects in Japan. Dr Dylan Glas, Erica’s “architect”, said: “What we want to do is have a robot which can think and act and do everything completely on its own.”

Human-like robots are not pervasive in our environment yet, as they are still too expensive to manufacture on a mass scale. However, some roboticists believe that the robots need not look like humans to bridge the gap between a man and the machine.

3. Robot Nekotencho: 

Ms Yukiko Nakagawa, founder of Robot Technology Corp, believes that the only way robots can be a man’s best friend is when they look like animals instead of human beings. “When you think of cats, you can accept their strange behaviour – jumping, dancing and many other strange behaviours. It is the same for this cat robot,” said Ms Nakagawa, who has devoted her life to the robotics industry. “But, if this robot had a human-like appearance, you would expect that it behaved like a human. For, e.g., to speak very cleverly and function very well and when it does not, it makes us uncomfortable because of the ‘Uncanny Valley’ a term coined by Japenese roboticist Dr Masahiro Mori who created a graph that plotted how a human-robot looked against how much people liked it. The graph rises to the discomfort and distress that many of us feel on seeing something that is almost, but not quite individual, sets in and it shows a significant dip or the ‘Uncanny Valley’ at the point where the robot resembles a human the most.

Nekotencho is no risk of falling into the Uncanny Valley. The cat-shaped robot does the perfect job of greeting customers outside the company’s retail shop at the world-famous electronics town Akihabara.Today, are the Robots taking our jobs or replacing us humans? Could we meet the human rival robot in Japan?

4. Ontonaroid Female Robot: 

The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan) is where the nation’s newest humanoid robots are housed. Miraikan Takeda is the Science Communicator guide in this museum, Miraikan has been expanding the areas in which she can use her skills. Miraikan has appeared on TV shows, and also as an actress on stage, and she is ready to replace a human being. The Robots are replacing many jobs in various industry verticals. Half of Japan’s population could be replaced by robots or artificial intelligence programs in the next twenty years. If robots are going to do a lot more of Japan’s jobs then what will it look like? Most of the people think that if their jobs were being taken over by a robot, they would prefer the bot to be a ‘Female.’ People have definite ideas of how their robots should look. Female waitresses that comfort diners, male chefs that fit the typical bill in Japan.

5. Gender Stereotypes: 

Professor Tatsuya Nomura has spent decades studying about the difference between a man and the machine. According to him, the more significant problem is not the debate between making robots look human or not. It is between referring to the robots as ‘Him or Her.’ The assignment of gender between robots is a very controversial issue because the gender in robots may produce gender stereotypes in the current society. For, e.g., In Japan, they have a stereotype that a receptionist should be a female. However, the receptionist need not be a female, and the male can also do the job of a receptionist. These types of gender stereotypes are causing similar problems in other countries too. In another, e.g., In Japan, a female wants to conduct some tasks, but these tasks are dominated by the males which are a kind of discrimination which is already existing in the society and culture. Hence, some robot designers use these stereotypes when they design their robots to smooth the interactions between the robots and humans which also reduces communication barriers.

So, let us take a look at how Singapore is designing their robots… –  are they gender stereotypes? – ‘Nadine’ is a female humanoid social robot which is modelled on Professor Nadia Magnenat Thalmann. Nadine is a robot receptionist at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) who made her public debut in the real world at the Art Science Museum last year. Nadine is fully autonomous and artificially intelligent. She formulates her own responses from the database she has built, from interacting with thousands of people.

To summarize, Robotics is already disrupting most of the industry verticals. However, I envision that this revolution will create more job opportunities for humans as they will become integral to manage the ‘Machine’ workforce. The Robots can never replace jobs of the teachers and those in management positions which require Leadership, motivation, compassion or caring. Robotics have already created an impact in the manufacturing industry through automation. With Industry 4.0 every industry’s goal is to achieve the highest productivity with low cost of production. In my next article, I will discuss the different types of robots and the adaption of these robots within the major industry sectors.

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