Many American science fiction movies portray robots as a danger to humanity, some movies even portray robots as rulers of the world above humans. On the other hand, Japanese movies and manga usually show robots as kind and empathic creatures plenty of feelings. For example, in some anime shows robots help humanity to save the planet against alien menaces. Most Japanese people like the idea of a society where robots take more and more importance helping them in their everyday life.
Frequently robots in western fiction are evil. (more Terminator photos here)
On the other hand, Japanese fiction usually portrays robots with a pleasant and likeable face and as superheroes capable of saving humanity.
The Japanese population is expected to decline from 127 million inhabitants right now to 103 million people in the year 2050. The forecast is optimistic regarding the birth rate and immigration. It is without a doubt an unprecedented decline of population in human history, which is severely affecting the economy of the country.
Nowadays, Japan is the country with the largest population of robots in the world. There are 1,000,056 industrial robots operating around the world according to the International Federation of Robotics. Almost a third of those robots, 298,000 units, are in Japan; 166,000 are in United States, Canada and Mexico, and 336,000 are in Europe. In 2008, the industrial robotics market handled more than 9,000 million euro (12,000 million dollars), and 79% of the market was controlled by Japanese corporations, the largest one of them being Kawasaki, more known in the west for its motorcycles than for its robots.
Some years ago there was a debate about whether robots could steal the jobs from humans, something that would make the unemployment rate to go up. In Japan, the ironic thing is that the lack of people is making a necessity that robots replace people without affecting the unemployment rate. Robots have become an essential part of the working force of the country. Toyota, the corporation in the world with more operational industrial robots, is also the corporation that uses them with the highest efficiency. Toyota production lines are the fastest in the world, its robots can produce a car in just a few hours almost without human help.
Another kind of robots that is starting to make up for the lack of people are service robots. For example, Japan faces a great lack of nurses. The aging of the population is causing a dramatic rise in the numbers of people admitted to hospitals and living in geriatric centers. The lack of young people able to assist the elderly is being offset by the introduction of service robots capable of doing complex tasks like, for example, helping people to get up from bed and go with them to the bathroom, or even fry an egg.
Defense, rescues, security and logistics are other sectors where service robots are gaining more and more importance. There have already been many cases where robots have been the hero of a rescue in a catastrophe in Japan, mostly in earthquakes.
Taking into account industrial robots, service robots and domestic robots, there are more than 5 million operational robots in Japan. It is forecasted that at the end of this decade there will be more than 30 million. Robots are becoming more and more commonplace in our everyday life, not only in Japan but all around the world. They are here to make our lives easier and they are indirectly changing the rules of the game, our society and the economy, as computers did in the second half of the twentieth century.
Article originally published in the Spanish newspaper El País.
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