What's all this about robots?
Heard this one yet?
"While Westerners harbor cultural fears toward robots, Japanese culture fosters a special relationship with robots, welcoming them into society as equal partners."
Oy vey. It's time to send this goofy myth to the scrapyard, once and for all.
I've got a whole laundry list of culturology (that's "culture-ology") myths to slap down. Among those, you'd think that a myth as trivial as "special cultural view of robots" would have to wait a while to reach its turn in the list, but I'm moving it to the front of the line – both because it pops up so frequently, and because it's so blatantly wrong.
Here's the general form of this particular wackiness:
- Japan has a "love affair" with robots going back to 18th century wind-up dolls.
- Japan's Shinto religion fosters acceptance of "spirits" in objects, including robots; "Western" religion discourages or even prohibits viewing of objects as animate.
- Japanese popular culture has long portrayed robots as friendly helpers; "Western" popular culture portrays them as rebellious or violent machines.
- In Japan, people welcome robots; in "the West", people feel threatened by them and even fear robots "taking over".
- Proof of Japan's love of robots is the popular Tetsuwan Atom (a.k.a. Astro Boy), a friendly robotic hero. Proof of "the West's" fear of robots is Hollywood movies with robot villains, like The Terminator.
(I'm not joking about that last one; it's almost always the centerpiece of panegyrics over the "special relationship"!)
Here's the latest in a long, long, long line of offenders, which sparked me to finally sit down and write. Take a read if you're not up on the topic:
Japanese robots enter daily life (USA Today)
First, let's be clear on some facts. Yes, Japan boasts the world's highest use of industrial robots. Yes, there's a lot of cutting-edge research in Japan on humanoid robots. Yes, there are fascinating projects in Japan involving use of robots in roles interfacing with humans. Yes, there are some cool robotic toys coming out of Japan. Those are all easily observable facts. No argument there.
Rather, it's the bullet-point list above – the psycho-socio-quasi-religious claptrap, i.e., the culturology – that's flat-out wrong.
If odes to "Japan's special relationship with robots" all seem to be fairly consistent, there's a reason: they parrot and re-parrot the same tropes, never adding a whit of evidence, critical examination, or a glance at possible counter-arguments.
I don't recall how many years ago I first saw the myth pop up; I brushed it off as yet another culturology dropping, and didn't expect to see it again. Yet this one's got more lives than a Hollywood slasher maniac; it keeps jumping back up. (Though unlike the slasher, it never changes through the sequels.)
(Readers, if you know where and when the trope first appeared, please send me a line. I'd like to know whom to blame. : )
Time to shatter a myth in its infancy. Let's pull out the clubs, shall we?
Where to begin?
Robots and AI came out of "the West". Westinghouse's Elektro walked and talked in 1939. Autonomous (if not humanoid) robots appeared in 1940s England. Looking at more current research, there's Festo AG's dancing TRON-X android, University of Texas's cutting-edge work on robot facial expressions, Cornell University's research into self-aware robots, MIT's contextual clue-recognizing robot Jerry and its gesturing, learning robot Leonardo (aptly named after the Renaissance inventor who was designing windup men as far back as 1495)...
Stop. I won't even try to go on; I couldn't begin to do justice to a review of the state of modern robotics (especially when it's developing so quickly). Hit the Googles yourself, and you'll find tons of "Western" research, inventions, and advances (all without the "Christian hangups" that culturologists – honest! – say are hindering robot development in "the West"). Or see the articles linked to at the end of this one, detailing more "Western" advances in friendly, thinking, personable robots than you can shake a remote control at.
To keep things only slightly over-long, let me pick on just a few key myth-conceptions:
"Japan's robots go back to the karakuri dolls of the 18th century."
Yes, some folks in Japan did start making clever windup dolls over 200 years ago. Welcome to the party, Japan. What took you so long?
Karakuri is a mundane word for "mechanical", in the sense of "clockwork" or "wind-up". An artfully-made wind-up doll that moves forward with a tray of tea, stops, and then turns around and goes back when the tea is lifted from the tray, is indeed a nifty party gadget for the well-heeled. But it had a long, long line of predecessors on this planet.
Human-shaped automatons go back to Greek mythology, which gives us Hepaehestus's automated helpers and Daedalus's talking statues. The poet Pindar wrote in 464 BC that moving, talking statues lined the streets of Rhodes. Whether or not the ancient Greeks actually built such automatons is open to debate, but those "Westerners" certainly showed fascination with the possibilities.
A 3rd-century BC text from China describes a life-sized automaton that walked, sang, danced, and interacted with people. Whether that was real or not, something amazing did take place in the 13th century: Arab genius Al-Jazari created mechanical entertainers (similar to the much-later karakuri dolls) whose movements could be programmed. And no one should be surprised to find that Leonardo da Vinci, rather than fearing automatons as "Westerners" are supposed to, went and designed a moving humanoid robot – which, when built in modern times, worked. (That's Leo for you.)
Europeans in the Renaissance Age went nuts with automatons. Most of us are familiar with examples of clever European clocks parading out mechanical musicians, woodcutters, saints, etc., to mark the hours with intricate performances; those are as much robots as are karakuri dolls. Nobles in Europe were also entertained by the likes of a life-like flute player (built by Jacques de Vaucanson, said to be the father of the first true robots), an automaton boy that could write messages, and even an automaton that could draw pictures. Louis XIV played with automated people and horses in a miniature coach.
(One famous 18th-century example, the Turk, was a hoax. A humanoid automaton that amazed audiences with its apparent skill at chess, it actually concealed a human operator within. The point: "Westerners" were fascinated, not frightened, by the machine, which toured Europe and the US.)
And on and on. While wonderful devices, Japan's karakuri dolls were but a drop in the ocean of worldwide fascination with automatons (and a late drop, at that). Why do the culturologists tell us otherwise?
"The Japanese love of robots goes back to Tetsuwan Atom."
Yes, there was a cartoon hero in Japan named Tetsuwan Atom, a construct with human emotions. And... so what?
Atom was another latecomer. Pinocchio had the same schtick – boy construct with human emotions – years earlier: Disney movie, 1940; original book, 1883. Think back to the movie: Besides the very "human" Jiminy Cricket and other animals, there's a home filled with delightful clockwork automatons, where a kindly man wishes life into a wooden puppet, who in turn wants nothing more than to become a real boy. Have you seen any movie more welcoming of love for an animated mechanism? Have you ever seen a "Westerner" turn from Pinocchio in fear or disgust?
(Trivia note: Atom is even related to Pinocchio, as his justly-renowned creator, Osamu Tezuka, readily acknowledged Pinocchio and other Disney works as inspirations for his cartoons.)
The film Pinocchio alone could dispel any and all rubbish about "Western" antipathy toward "spirits" in non-human objects, but it's not even the tip of the tip of the iceberg's tip. Pinocchio himself was beaten to the screen a year earlier by The Wizard of Oz's Tin Man, a construct who like Pinocchio wanted to be more like us. Again, quiz time: Did "Westerners" love or fear that clanky, lovable non-human? (Hint: I just said "lovable".)
And later on? Let's see: Every American kid in the 60s wanted to be pals with the robot B-9 from Lost in Space. Then came two of the most popular robots ever, in the 70s: 'Droids C-3PO and R2-D2. One's humanoid, one's not; "Western" audiences don't care, they love 'em both, even now.
Next, we have the cute robot hero from the Short Circuit movie (okay, not so memorable, but that's the movie's fault, not the 'bot's), the Jetsons' sassy metallic maid Rosie, Knight Rider's talking car KITT, Star Trek's gentle Lt. Data, DC Comics' heroes Red Tornado and Metal Men, and Superman's army of secret identity-protecting robot doubles. Recent films like AI and Centennial Man sympathetically depict humanoid robots and their interactions with humans. It goes on and on. If you want loveable, friendly robots, often in deep, two-way emotional relationships with humans, "Western" pop culture will bury you with examples. (It's strange, though; the "Japan and robots" culturology pieces never, never mention any of this.)
"But don't forget The Terminator! Robots are scary monsters in Hollywood movies!"
Yes – because everything gets to guest star as a scary monster in Hollywood movies. There are Hollywood movies about killer cars. Killer tomatoes. Giant man-eating rabbits. (Night of the Lepus. I am not joking.) There are movies featuring serial murders in the guise of Santa Claus. Now, how many of you are willing to believe that "Westerners" have some innate cultural fear of bunnies, Saint Nick, automobiles and tomatoes?
Sure, there are movies with bad-guy robots, too. So what? Where's the deep psychic resonance? Funny, when the culturologists watch Godzilla destroy Tokyo, they fail to read into it some primal Japanese discomfort with bipedal lizards. Why the one-way street?
Why ignore the legion of friendly Hollywood robots? Or the fun robots populating the rest of the entertainment world, like amusement parks? Disney has been working with its Audio-Animatronics robot creations for 50 years. Its parks have the Enchanted Tiki Room, Pirates of the Caribbean, It's a Small World, The Country Bears, any and every attraction in which mechanical characters jump and move... heck, Disney theme parks could just be renamed Robotland, and the name would fit.
("Westerners", were you scared by the talking Lincoln in Disneyland's Hall of Presidents? Bored, yes, but were you scared? I thought not.)
We can even look outside of amusement parks. Robotic Santas, large and small, are everywhere in stores at year-end. (These are the friendly Santas, not the killer ones.) Then there's the Chuck E. Cheese restaurant chain and its entertainer robots... okay, not a very proud example, but there it is. Let's move on.
(Oh, one more thing to consider: cybernetics, the merging of actual humans with robotic parts. That should scare the "Westerners" silly, right? Surely they wouldn't cheer such hybrid abominations as... uh, RoboCop... or Luke Skywalker and his robot hand... or the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman... which were huge hits, spawning toys galore, and... Oh, never mind.)
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"Shinto is especially accepting of animated objects. "Western" religion is not."
Absolute rubbish. Pinocchio – and all the friendly constructs, robots, and androids that followed – smash that one to pieces. But again, that's barely a start.
Ever see Toy Story? Remember all the "Western" dismay over its depiction of plastic and cloth toys with animated spirits? You don't? That's right – because there wasn't any. "Westerners" not only made the movie, they – kids and parents alike – made it one of the most popular movies ever. They love this stuff about talking, animated, spirited, live objects.
"Western" dolls revel in robots and animism. Teddy Ruxpin and Furby toys were hugely successful talking play pals. For decades, girls have cared for mechanical infants that talk, cry, wet and walk – robot babies, really. Then came a mechanical Barney and mechanical Tickle Me Elmo and lord knows what's next.
That's to say nothing of more robot-like toy robots. Toy stores have had wind-up dolls, soldiers, etc. for ages; that includes wind-up "sci-fi robots", for as long as that character concept has existed. Now the stores are packed with computer-controlled robots of every conceivable shape. LEGO's Mindstorms invites kids to design and program "real" robots, and the humanoid RoboSapiens toy has been a big hit.
There are far, far too many such toys to even begin discussing here. "Westerners" don't run from this stuff. They run to it, the kids screaming for more and the parents tugging out wallets. Batteries may be required, but Shintoism sure isn't.
Talk of mechanical "animated" toys is a bit moot, anyway; give a child – any child on the planet – a non-mechanical, non-moving toy doll or animal, and the kid will happily imagine it to be a living, animated pal. Meanwhile, his parents, even "Westerners", will see that animistic reverence as just the cutest thing.
In the same way, humans everywhere have always gleefully ascribed "spirit" to just about anything. We have talking animals in a zillion fables and children's stories... faerie spirits in rocks and streams... Frosty the Snowman and the Little Engine That Could... talking swords, genies in lamps, and 'mirror, mirror, on the wall'... Middle-Earth's walking trees and Hogwarts' Sorting Hat... Howdy Doody and Thomas the Tank Engine... Mr Peanut and the Pillsbury Doughboy... It goes on forever. (This news just in: The dish ran away with the spoon. Film at eleven.)
Modern people interacting with real objects are no exception: who doesn't ascribe feelings to old cars, toys, tools, anything we've interacted with for a long time? What "Western" sailor doesn't mourn an old ship as she is decommissioned? Are you going to tell B.B. King that he can't see a soul in his beloved Lucille's six strings, because the bluesman doesn't have the prescribed nationality or religion?
I'm running out of energy here. I won't even discuss the form of animated life most celebrated in "the West" and every corner of the globe: animation – from the Latin for "instill with life" – whether on film or via computer. Speaking of which, where did the personal computer gain a "humanlike" personality and voice? Cupertino, not Kanagawa. And on that topic of machine personality, I'm also too tired to get into artificial intelligence, a "Western"-born-and-led field seeking to imbue – or discover – real human intelligence, emotion, even "soul", in silicon minds. I'll have to leave all that for later.
In short, the claim of some national/ethnic monopoly on the concept of animating spirits is probably the most embarassingly ridiculous thing culturology has come up with. And that's saying a lot.
So what can we say about Shintoism? Well, I'll grant that Shintoism doesn't present any particular obstacle to acceptance of robots – but that's because it has no connection to the discussion whatsoever.
Meanwhile, back in Japan...
To give credit to the otherwise-uncritical USA Today article, it does bother to point out some non-successes of robots in Japan:
For all its research, Japan has yet to come up with a commercially successful consumer robot. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. failed to sell even one of its pricey toddler-sized Wakamaru robots, launched in 2003 as domestic helpers.
Though initially popular, Sony Corp. pulled the plug on its robot dog, Aibo, in 2006, just seven years after its launch. With a price tag of a whopping $2,000, Aibo never managed to break into the mass market.
One of the only commercially successful consumer robots so far is made by an American company, iRobot Corp. The Roomba vacuum cleaner robot is self-propelled and can clean rooms without supervision.
Those are important points. Contrary to what you'll often read in the press, robots do not regularly act as receptionists and tea servers and senior care buddies in Japan; such rare robots are constrained to experimental programs here and there, or show-off pieces in the lobbies of a few big companies. As of this day, the average Japanese has no more contact with home robots or humanoid robots than you do (probably even less, if you're into things like Roomba, Mindstorms, or RoboSapiens).
It's a wrap
Let's close shop already. As I noted toward the beginning, Japan does lead the world in use of industrial robots, and there's a lot of research – and results – coming out of Japan involving more human-like robots in interactive roles. Without question, many of the leading companies and researchers in the field are in Japan. There may very well be greater interest in robotic workers in Japan than elsewhere, too, thanks to that research prowess coupled with a shrinking workforce and resistance to immigrant labor.
It's all fascinating and impressive stuff. But a leading role in robotic research and deployment no more requires some psycho-cultural-religious "special relationship" with robots, than Japan's prominent position in television production necessitates a spiritual ethnic bond with LCD panels. No more than the US's current leadership in MP3 players suggests a special American psychic affinity for... uh, click wheels, and hard drives. No more than France's record-setting TGV calls for an inexplicably French emotional resonance with... er, train-ish stuff, like rails, and...
You get the picture.
(A grand tangent: All this talk of countries is patently silly to begin with. If you astutely recognize that humanity's inventions are the accomplishments of individual organizations and people, not countries and nationalities, you are far, far ahead of the game. But that's yet another big topic for later.)
The big summary
There's nothing unique about Japan's interest in automatons and robots, now or 300 years ago. Neither Shinto nor any religion is remotely a requirement for humanity's universal embracing of animated objects, robot or otherwise. Tetsuwan Atom points to no special pro-robot predilection whatsoever; he's barely even visible among a sea of human-like constructs and robot buddies in non-Japanese pop culture. "Westerners" do not fear robots; they're utterly ga-ga over the things. (I assume this applies to all non-"Westerners" as well.)
Finis. So let's all stop being silly, shall we?
You may now ask, "You wrote all that over such a trivial matter?" Yeah, I did spill some words, didn't I? It is trivial stuff, too; trust me, I don't lose any sleep over mis-depictions of views on robots. It's just that, after hearing this ridiculous goofiness for the nth time, I had to let the steam out.
I'm done, and I'm feeling much better now, thank you. : )
A request, dear Reader!
Please do us all a favor or two:
1. When you see the ridiculous "special relationship with robots" meme chucked up again, set the claimant straight. All you need to do is respond with a dose of reality.
2. If you see an appropriate venue, let people know about this page. Digg it, Reddit it, etc., if you think it deserving. Your links to this page are very welcome, too!
3. Please add to the arguments above with additional examples, facts, and corrections. Do so on your own site, or send me whatever you've got (email or comments).
Thank you. Now you'll excuse me while I take off to perform some mundane chores – chores that, like most anyone, I'd prefer to have handled by a robot buddy. Oh well, until that day –
Japanese robots enter daily life
The USA Today article mentioned earlier. A look at the amazing state of robotics in Japan is a fine topic for a report, but this article buries facts under unsupported nonsense like "To the Japanese psyche, the idea of a humanoid robot with feelings doesn't feel as creepy — or as threatening — as it might do in other cultures."
Why can't American consumers handle the future that robotics is willing to offer?
A confusing article that claims "Americans will never overcome their cultural aversion to humanoid robots", without offering a whit of evidence for the existence of such an "aversion".
In Japan, robots are people, too
Interview with a writer who parrots every stereotype on the books, with neither writer nor interviewer displaying a hint of critical skepticism. "The thing is, [Astro Boy] really wanted to be human as much as possible. He really wanted parents like the human school children that he went to class with."
Think the article gives Pinocchio credit for doing the same thing, earlier? Not a chance.
Karakuri info: Robot Perspectives
Beautiful! A mother-lode of psycho-socio-religious yammerings about Japan's "unique" views of robots and dolls and spirits and whatever else fits in there, without a smidgen of evidence to show that the rest of the world is any different. Hook, line, and sinker!
(Saving Japan) Robots the Future of Japan?
To its credit, this short article spends most of its text on real, structural aspects of interest in robots in Japan (aging population, changing workforce). Unfortunately, there's also nonsense about a historical "love affair" and the special role of Shinto, naturally without backing evidence.
Reality check: News items from the real world
Luna Personal Robot Brings You Telepresence and More for $3k
California-based RoboDynamics is closing in on the first affordable, personal robot. It's a beauty, too!
In New Study, Babies Think A Silvery Robot Is Human, As Long As It Acts Friendly
No surprise here. It's a human thing, not an ethnic thing.
Popeye, the robot with brains not brawn
Europeans give robots the ability to read human body language...
AMARSi project could see robots learn from co-workers
... and to learn from humans, and to act as caretakers for humans, and to appear more natural than ever.
Humanoid robots to gain advanced social skills
"We think that robots will be part of the family. If you cannot communicate easily with the humanoid robot you have at home, it will never be accepted", says one of those "Western" researchers living in the real world.
Disney Launches Global Research & Development Labs With Carnegie Mellon And Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich)
Egads, that's a lot of "Westerners"! And they'll be creating "autonomous interactive characters"! FOOLS! Don't they know they're supposed to be cowering in fear?
Guitarist Hopes To Play Again With The Help of Bionic Hand
A good thing, too, that "Westerners" aren't running away from robotics, even cybernetics. Their work is helping real people with real problems.
New robotic hand 'can feel'
Like the above, from Italy and Sweden.
Robot Hand from Shadow Continues to Impress (Video)
British researchers further the state of the art in robotic and cybernetic prosthetics.
DaVinci Robotic Surgical System
"Western" robots helping doctors save lives. (And appropriately named after a robotics pioneer.)
Texas Student Attends School as a Robot – A Sign of Things to Come
Robot uniquely improves a life in... Texas? Yes, Texas. A robot stand-in lets a boy with health issues "attend" school with classmates. Wow!
Robotic firefighting team debuts
Robots work to save lives in London.
Berkeley Gets Willow Garage Robot to Fold Towels
Of course, not all robot work aims for goals as high as saving lives...
In this months-long experiment, a tiny, cute robot was set loose in a New York park, asking for human aid in reaching a destination. "Westerners" responded unfailingly with friendly assistance - no fear, no panic, no religious hang-ups. "...this ad-hoc crowdsourcing was driven primarily by human empathy for an anthropomorphized object. The journey the Tweenbots take each time they are released in the city becomes a story of people's willingness to engage with a creature that mirrors human characteristics of vulnerability, of being lost, and of having intention without the means of achieving its goal alone."
Future Watch: A.I. comes of age
"[Stanford's] Stair represents a new wave of AI, one that integrates learning, vision, navigation, manipulation, planning, reasoning, speech and natural-language processing." We're going to have "thinking" robots sooner than many expect – and goofy fantasies about national proclivities won't factor into it.
The Gundersons get us ready for Basil, the robot of our dreams
American couple build amazing robot helper. "Our motivation is, 'Where is my robot?" explains Jim. "For fifty years, sixty years, they've been promising us our robots. The personal servants who are going to clean our house, walk the dog, do all that kind of stuff. We want Rosie from the Jetsons." Yes!
US university students build robot wedding photographer
"We know that people ascribe feelings and states of mind to robots... If he began beeping, people would say, 'Oh, he's talking to us!' " Now Lieberg is experimenting with using Lewis' existing code and capabilities to interface with a computerized talking face.
In short: More "Westerners" doing what "Westerners" don't do.
Dutch unveil robot to fill car gas tank
"I was on a farm and I saw a robotic arm milking a cow. If a robot can do that then why can't it fill a car tank, I thought."
Nicely practical, and somehow utterly lacking in "cultural fears" or "Christian hangups".
Robot 'plays back' dreams
Another humanoid, interactive robot from "Westerners" who haven't yet been informed that they're not supposed to be doing this.
Robot love: South Korea to build robot theme parks
"Developing such theme parks are not big surprise as South Korea loves its robots."
What? How can that be, without karakuri dolls, Shinto, and Tetsuwan Atom!?
Zou Renti and His Robot Clone
Yet another non-Japanese human 'bot that the culturologists won't point out to you.
Humans will love, marry robots by 2050
An AI researcher – i.e., someone knowledgeable on the topic, not a passing reporter – foresees fascinating changes in human/robot interaction. All without culturology nonsense.
Top 10 robots that we'd marry
Those silly "Westerners" are at it again: getting all misty-eyed over robots, instead of cowering. Didn't they get the memo?
Linux-powered robots from France? Oui!
Shhh, don't tell les culturologistes.
NAO Humanoid Robot Set to Hit the Market
Yet again: "Westerners" making cool humanoid robots available to all – and beating some of the big-name Japanese commercial 'bots in price, too.
In the Field of Battle (Or Even Above It), Robots Are a Soldier's Best Friend
This one's about military 'bots, but war doesn't stop "Western" soldiers from getting emotionally attached to their mechanical buddies.
NASA fashions mountain climbing robot
Does this mean that Americans have a "special relationship" with robots, mountain-climbing, or both?
The ROBOTS Are Coming! (Dec, 1953)
"Yes, the robot is here and more are coming. They will make your life easier, better, freer. It is one invasion civilization welcomes."
Sorry, culturologists; this piece from Modern Mechanix, over 50 years past, is salivating over the prospects of robot buddies.
Don't be rude to this robot
Yet another fun, emotionally-aware robot pal from "the West". Hmm, this is all becoming old news!
Building A Robotic Beckham
Virginia Tech’s Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory aims for more human-like robots.
Dancing microrobots waltz on a pin's head
True, these aren't humanoid 'bots, but give them a break – they're microscopic. Noteworthy because these Duke U "Westerners" are playing with two of the things that culturologists tell us "Westerners" don't do (but are always doing anyway): robotics and miniaturization. (I sense another debunking article coming on...)
Exclusive: Inside the LEGO factory
Fascinating look inside the birthplace of the famed LEGO bricks, where autonomous robots travel nearly human-free aisles delivering materials and troubleshooting problems. Robots in the service of fun, with no "Western fear" in sight.
Open Source Roboticists On a Path to C3P0
US-based, open-source initiative to build Personal Robots - including iCub, who resembles a human two-year-old. Another fascinating look at robotic developments in the real world.
Robots Take To The Stairs - This Is Just The Beginning (videos)
From France to Japan, from the US to Israel, robots increasingly master difficult physical tasks.
Skiing Robot Not Very Useful But Totally Fun To Watch
Slovenian robot is fun.
Yet another US initiative to create helpful humanoid 'bots for the home.
Robots turn off senior citizens in aging Japan
"Most (elderly) people are not interested in robots. They see robots as overly-complicated and unpractical. They want to be able to get around their house, take a bath, get to the toilet and that's about it".
Huh. Maybe they didn't watch enough Tetsuwan Atom.
No, robot: Japan's elderly fail to welcome their robot overlords
Another look at the troubles faced by would-be robot vendors in Japan, where the populace just isn't displaying that "special relationship" so beloved of the media. (Despite that theme, note how the BBC still insists on cluelessly injecting the idiotic "Robots outside Japan are the Terminator!" meme into its story. Reporters just gotta be lazy.)
Robots Make the Coins Go 'Round, Down Under
Aussies put robots to good practical use. "We are finding that the AGVs are much safer and more reliable. Robots are never affected by having a bad night with the baby and falling asleep at the wheel. They are extremely accurate and they always do the same task in the same way."
Taiwan University Students Build Tour-Guide Robot
Hsiao Mei, robot, offers guided tours and uses facial expressions.
Robotic fish school the rest
Robofish: "UK biologists have infiltrated underwater society with a computer-controlled fish that recruits and leads other fish in a school."
History of Robotics
Quick global overview.
Everything Old is Still Not New
While the linked blog post takes aim at the mistaken reporting of old stuff as new, and not at robotics issues per se, the video (below) fits my article nicely. At the same time Tetsuwan Atom was doing his thing on paper, Disney engineers were building real humanoids. Amazingly lifelike, too.
(The links are getting overwhelming, so time to consolidate...) In the above links, humans go about exploring the human fascination (and increasing friendship) with robots, all without hint of ethnocentric "special relationships".