I was reading a Japanese newspaper and the headline read "Android teaching lessons at Tokyo Elementary School".
As a big sci-fi and mecha (robot genre) fan, I often wondered about the progress of robotic technology in America but also how America and Japan perceive the future of utilizing this technology. And what grabbed my attention of "LOVING THE MACHINE: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots" were a few sentences that instantly grabbed my attention.
Here, in America, when robot technology is featured, they are viewed as robots or computers who attain intelligence and want to rule over or destroy the world or humanity. With films such as "Terminator", "Eagle Eye", to even many science fiction novels, robots with intelligence are typically featured as technology that can go awry and humanity will be responsible for creating something that can kill us off.
Meanwhile, in Japan, robotics are seen differently. Integrated into society and it has been that way for a long time with the animation and manga series "Tetsuwan Atom" (Atom Boy) to humans piloting large mecha suits such as Gundam and moreso now as there have been a robot created after a newscaster, a robot serving drinks or food at a restaurant. There are two different perspectives of robotic technology.
"LOVING THE MACINE: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots" is a magnificent book on the Japanese perspective, creation and the utilization of robot technology written by Timothy N. Hornyak, who works at the International desk of Kyodo News.
I was immediately surprised to read that robot technology or the planning of clock-work automations were done back in the 1600's. There are prints that date back during the Edo Period of automations that were utilized in stage performances to tea-serving. Even blue prints from 1796 which Shoji Tatsukawa, a former Waseda University professor, used the prints to create a tea-serving doll.
Hornyak is very thorough when it came to his research in writing this book. Covering Japan hundreds of years ago and then featuring photography and interviews with modern technology representatives. One who said these early automations were what shaped the way the Japanese view robots.
Learning that Europe actually had more technically sophisticated creations which they attempted to reproduce human activities in machine form, Japanese looked at trying to create charm.
That was until the 1920's when there was a robot boom in Japan where people were creating many robots that were mainly non functional but nevertheless, looked futuristic and showed the forward thinking of these inventors.
By the 1930's, robots became a staple in Japanese pop culture. From magazines, comics, songs, radio episodes and more. But the person who brought the concept of robot to mainstream was manga artist Tezuka Osamu, the creator of Tetsuwan Atom (Atom Boy). A machine who was intelligent but emotional. A robot created not to be hurt mankind but a scientist who wanted to recreate a robot after the death of his son.
And of course, from then on, Japanese started utilizing robots in animation such as "Mazinger Z", "Mobile Suit Gundam", "Giant Robo", "Evangelion" and many more. It's a common thing to see in Japan as its so ingrained into Japan's pop culture. Go to a toy store and these popular robots or mecha can be seen in all sorts of merchandise.
But Japan's entry into making robots more humanlike began in the 1960's courtesy of Ichiro Kato, one of Japan's well-known roboticists. Robots walking, playing music on a keyboard. Unfortunately, Kato died in 1984 and his dream of creating a robot that would be humanlike was never achieved but Waseda University known for its Humanoid Robotics Institute would further their research into robot technology.
Mainstream robotics came to play around the 1990's. The most popular were Sony's Aibo which sold out within minutes when it was released back in 1999. The Aibo was not cheap but people who have purchased an Aibo would chronicle their lives on the Internet and showed how the regular Japanese cared for their robots.
But when it came to showcasing human-like movement of robots, automobile maker Honda became a company in the forefront. In fact, on Feb. 14, 2002, Honda's listing on the New York Stock Exchange featured their robot Asimo ringing the opening bell. And eventually, other companies such a Fujitsu, JVC and Toyota would have their own versions of robots.
As robots become more technologically advanced, as mentioned, I am a big sci-fi fan and often wondered when androids like Data of the popular "Star Trek: The Next Generation" would come to play, even though in its beginning stages, in our modern time.
Sure enough, by 2005, at the Aichi Expo was the introduction of Repliee Q1expo cloned after NHK news announcer Ayako Fujii. The creator of Repliee was Hiroshi Ishiguro, Director of Osaka University's Intelligent Robotics Laboratory and sure enough, he was an avid fan of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" android, Data. How an android can elicit natural responses in people and can be integrated into human society.
The potential of robot technology and the concept of androids is starting to become realized in Japanese culture and it's just amazing to read the news on how they are utilized at shows and schools.
Overall, Timothy N. Hornyak was successful in creating a book that features Japanese passion for robots but going as far as the 1600's to modern day with color photographs and interviews with key people involved with the creation of these robots. In fact, there are many forms of early to modern day robots presented in this book (with photos). It's absolutely a great resource for Japanese robotics and its history.
The book is well-written, well-researched and quite enjoyable. If you are a fan of robot or android technology, especially its perception and how they are utilized in Japanese society, I highly recommend checking this book out!