Monday, March 22, 2010

Honda's "Living with Robots"

Looks like Honda is laying the foundation for a line of home help aide robots it hopes to start selling in the U.S. about 10 or 20 years from now... It wants Americans to believe robots can be their friends. There would be little need for this kind of "documentary" (er, propaganda) in Japan because many people generally have positive impressions of robots. I'm generalizing like crazy here, but robots in Japanese popular culture are more often friendly and good, not scary and violent like the U.S.

My pet theory is that massive U.S. research, development and investment in robots that can find and kill people helps make Americans distrust and fear robots. In contrast, Japanese companies are building robots to do things like feed and carry the elderly. It's no wonder Americans are afraid of robots and Japanese see them as cute.

Thoughts, anyone?


Heeero said...

I think it may end up being bounced back to the press. If they portray the reality of robots in a good light, it may receive a warmer reception. Right now, the biggest reality of robots is what we see and use in modern warfare; namely, the predator and the reaper. Essentially war machines. If small robots such as the roomba can become more commonplace and accepted in modern society and if they can garner enough good press (i.e. consumer reports) as dependable and worthwhile devices, I think robots may find a greater place in everyday society. To an extent...

Galspanic said...

Those surgical crabs are pretty awesome. I'm surprised you don't have more of a vested interest with the military, Fugu. I mean, all the cutting edge medical tech stuff probably starts with plans for military repair/rehab programs.

Ready for my supersized motherfucking blanket statement?

I think part of the American wariness with robots goes back to the whole "playing God" issue. Americans have this weird relationship with God (amirite?) and the notion of creating artificial life is so easily twisted into a Frankensteinian parable, because of the whole desire to see what happens to Man if he pushes the boundaries of what the Almighty has set before him. Disagree? Then why are there so many fucking disaster movies? It's all about getting punished for our hubris. At least that's what Hollywood statisticians seem to be thinking. Why are there so many mutated viruses that wipe out the earth or make genetically engineered super zombie dinosaurs? Why so many hordes of killer AI? Why are so many science documentaries turned into "When Asteroids Attack?"
Because mankind, your dick is too short to fuck with God. (or Mother Nature, whatever, you atheist wusses.)

Raised as an semi-wussy agnostic, I find that I happen to find killer robots to be the most charming, and it is the smiling helper bots that give me the biggest willies. (Tachikoma meet HAL, nowhutimean?)

Galspanic said...

Uh oh. Fugu comment go away. Negated parts of discussion. Readers have no frame of reference...History erased. AI in timestream. Must use...crystal lattice interference

Fugu said...

IThe military funding part doesn't affect me as much as you two; for one thing this arguably necessary and logical, and well, you both have/had vested interests in the military.

Maybe the bigger part is that the media has decided that we just love our sensationalism. E.g.: WHEN ASTEROIDS ATTACK. It's much easier to get our brainless excitement with OMGLAZERGUNZPEWPEWPEW than by removing a prostate with the Davinci robot (the one they show in the clip), which, btw: perfect 3-D view of your organs and being able to operate with four arms? This is a fucking incredible machine.

But I think Heeero's roomba comment is important, though: I LOVE helper robots. These completely utilitarian machines aren't sexy, though. Honda/Sony's attempt to make them sexy completely fail. A robot that walks slower than my grandmother, which can feed her breakfast in the amount of time it takes her to die of starvation? No thanks. It's good that they're trying to change their PR, but for fuck's sake stop showing the history of all your incredibly boring bipedal relics! WE DON'T CARE!. If you're going to try to sell this thing, you need to prove that your Azimo can do ANYTHING useful for me besides not-really-even-looking-that-cool.

Fugu said...

Dammit, my bad. I found that damn Times article titled "when asteroids attack", and had to repost with it, then got sidetracked with all the ranting… ^_^

Fugu said...

Interesting take though, Panic. I don't see it so much as being punished for hubris as simply that it's an easy sell to show explosions and violent conflict. I mean, half of those disaster movies aren't due to some Icarus scenario, but are just because the sun went nova and we got in the way.

Maybe it's more that Hollywood statisticians have seen that they can make a bazillion dollars with virus-fed zombie movies instead of making one about gene therapy curing kids of cancer.

Money is driving all of this, not religion.

Oh, wait…

Galspanic said...

Our current project in Maya 2; Electric Boogaloo is to create a robot with a peaceful societal function. As in "assist humankind". No weapons, no assassin machines, peaceful societal function. This wouldn't be so bad, except that it has to be bipedal.

It's not that I dislike creating bipedal robots, it's that it's very hard to picture a more inefficient design to assist humans with. I mean, we have two arms and legs and stand upright, why do we need our assistants to do the same? It makes more sense to have spider/brain bots assisting us! What's the point of a bipedal form other than to gratify our egos or make us more comfortable? Bleah!

Heeero said...

I think I'm with the fish-man. The almighty dollar is really what's pushing the sensationalism on the big-screen. But by the same token, if little, harmless looking machines like the roomba can affordably come into our homes. Or maybe an affordable automatic shower/bath/toilet cleaning robot, or roving security alarm robot (no pewpew, just detects something taller than 4 and a half feet tall bi-pedally walking thru a house that's not supposed to be there and makes noise and calls the police) that rolls room to room (I guess I'm imagining an R-2 like unit minus stun-gun and rockets); something along those lines may be useful. Think about an R2 robot that is linked to home sensors, rolls from room to room as a mobile burglar alarm, is equiped with a fire extinguisher in case the fire alarm goes off, and can automatically dispense pet food at specific hours of the day, if you could make one for $300, I think I would certainly buy one.

odori said...

I like Panic's theory.
("...creating artificial life is so easily twisted into a Frankensteinian parable, because of the whole desire to see what happens to Man if he pushes the boundaries of what the Almighty has set before him.")

After all, sure Hollywood is making the kinds of movies that will earn lots of money. But why are these particular movies earning so much money in the U.S.? Because Americans somehow want to see robots as evil and destructive.

If evil robot movies made so much money everywhere, Japanese filmmakers would pack their movies with them too. But they don't, at least not on the same scale as the U.S.

So I think there's something else going on.

Anyway, I think it's fascinating Honda feels it has to create an 8-minute movie to convince Americans to give the damn things a try.

odori said...

Robot reporters!

(Sorry - I don't have time to embed link.)