Japan is arguably the first postindustrial society to embrace the prospect of human-robot coexistence. Over the past decade, Japanese humanoid robots designed for use in homes, hospitals, offices, and schools have become celebrated in mass and social media throughout the world. In Robo sapiens japanicus, Jennifer Robertson casts a critical eye on press releases and public relations videos that misrepresent robots as being as versatile and agile as their science fiction counterparts. An ethnography and sociocultural history of governmental and academic discourse of human-robot relations in Japan, this book explores how actual robots—humanoids, androids, and animaloids—are “imagineered” in ways that reinforce the conventional sex/gender system and political-economic status quo. In addition, Robertson interrogates the notion of human exceptionalism as she considers whether “civil rights” should be granted to robots. Similarly, she juxtaposes how robots and robotic exoskeletons reinforce a conception of the “normal” body with a deconstruction of the much-invoked Theory of the Uncanny Valley.
Jennifer Robertson is Professor of Anthropology and the History of Art at the University of Michigan. She is author of Takarazuka: Sexual Politics and Popular Culture in Modern Japan and Native and Newcomer: Making and Remaking a Japanese City.
"What is the nature of robotics in Japan? Robertson deftly shows readers that the anxieties about artificiality, doubling, and identity that haunt the figure of the robot in the so-called West do not animate robotics in Japan. Rather, robots are posed as immanent to a nature already artificial—even as Robertson also demonstrates that robots are cultural platforms for considering and contesting the shifting politics of gender, generation, and labor. A necessary read for anyone interested in past, present, and future of robotics."—Stefan Helmreich, author of Silicon Second Nature: Culturing Artificial Life in a Digital World
"This book is a highly original, superbly researched, and gracefully executed account of robo sapiens japanicus: how robots are developed, acculturated, promoted, and used in Japan. It remains cool-headed when dissecting the sociopolitical undercurrents of robot policy and provides a crisp analysis as much of Japanese society and politics as of the new 'citizens' in the process of creation."—Sabine Frühstück, author of Playing War Children and the Paradoxes of Modern Militarism in Japan
"This is a definite must-read on the '21st century’s newest must-study subject' (Boston Globe). Presenting carefully documented analyses of the cultural imaginaries, the visions, and the realities of Japanese robotics policies, Robertson for the first time unveils the multidimensionality of social robotics as a tool of cultural engineering and value politics. Profoundly instructive for anyone thinking about the ‘robot revolution’."—Johanna Seibt, Research Unit for Robophilosophy, Aarhus University