The wisdom that is Japanese

Funerals are being held for ROBOTIC dogs in Japan because owners believe they have souls…

It is a funeral like any other in Japan. Except that those being honoured are robot dogs, lined up on the altar, each wearing a tag to show where they came from and which family they belonged to.

The devices are ‘AIBOs’, the world’s first home-use entertainment robot equipped with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and capable of developing its own personality.

And don’t forget this:

The only source of genuine parts are ‘dead’ robots, who become donors for organ transplantation, but only once the proper respects have been paid.

There is more here, with video, via Claire Hill.


I think the headline should read "the CULTURE that is Japanese", since no wisdom here. The Japanese are superstitious and believe in all sorts of animist beliefs like an evil spirit that comes out during earthquakes and other such nonsense, though logic and religion don't go together in any event.

Very few japanese believe in shinto esque ideas like that anymore, but they lack a "religion vs. science" cultural dichotomy; most thinks are ritual or metaphor. We cant know what the individuals here would say, but if asked i think they would agree with the idea that "the robot dogs have life because we care about them", not because they have magic spirits. While an average Japanese would of course lack a true understanding of the kind of "philosophy of the mind" debates that would define consciousness, seems like the funerals are making the good point that in general people draw a pretty arbitrary line when they say "this bio dog is worth caring about, this metal dog is not".

the thing is that Japanese tend to relate to non biological things differently. For the most part Shinto was a weird Victorian creation, but that it came out like Shinto says a lot about the culture.

I think we need to seperate the widespread superstition of the Japanese, which manifests in pseudo science, and this sort of willingness to imbue manufactured objects with personality. This sort of thing in the West would be completely mocked by all and sundry, and even those indulging their genuine need would be embarrassed by it and either hide it or mask it in irony, while many of the Japanese I know, who are mainly academics in the sciences, think it is understandable and nod sympathetically.

Now I am willing to admit that this is not all negative, but I also suspect, along with much of the world, that this has something to do with why things like robot dogs have been so popular in Japan, while everywhere else on the planet they are seen as somewhere between creepy and laughable.

But then our host objected to kicking a military transport robot to show off its capabilities on squeamishness grounds, so it is hardly confined to the Japanese.

I agree with Ray here.

When westerners cling to superstitions, they are called superstitious. When a non-western culture clings to superstitions, we call it wisdom. What's the deal here?

If someone says they don't believe in western medicine and instead chooses to "pray away" the cancer, we call them religious lunatics. If someone uses leeches to release bad humors, we'd call them crazy. But if you say you believe in "alternative medicine", at worst it's considered an adorable personality quirk.

The double standard here is obvious and offensive.

i wouldnt generalise this to all non westerners; Sri Lankan Buddhists truly believe they can use astrology to win lotteries, for example. But in the specific case of Japan, a generally secular, supremely educated country, you would be right more often or not to say that they have a pretty good understanding that they cant "pray away cancer". To put it another way, you wont ever see anything like the anti vaccine movement in Japan, no one *rejects* science for the ritual. They just do both, because hey, meditation is relaxing and has health benefits too.

And in this specific case, looks like Japan is ahead of the general curve on at least probing the idea of how we will relate to robots.

It parallels the party of science line we are fed by people who worship crystals and despise objective truth in between global warming summits and fetus barbeques.

Haha. That's actually pretty funny. You've become a caricature of yourself.

Not sure what you mean. Non-Western cultures are routinely described as superstitious. Or at least Chinese culture is. I regularly hear Chinese culture described as superstitious.

You rarely hear of Westerners being described as superstitious. Baseball players and other athletes are described as superstitious for wearing the same pair of socks, etc., but it's understood that they're not really superstitious in a serious way. Westerners with alternative views are usually described as conspiracy theorists or something.

Catholic Westerners were described as superstitiouis by Protestant Westerners in the past, but they're rarely described that anymore.

Depends on where you live. In polite San Francisco society, it's perfectly acceptable to believe in almost any level of quackery so long as Jesus isn't involved.

The same people who attack Christian religious fundamentalism also seem to be attracted to new age religion/spiritual cults.

Maybe everyone needs *something* to believe in? The Japanese have their robot dog spirits, Pentecostals have their snake talkers, Catholics have their rosary beads and Californians have their crystals.

Religious Jews and Muslims generally aren't described as superstitious either.

New Agers usually aren't described as superstitious, although this may have more to do with the fact that a lot of New Agers don't actually believe in the stuff but do it for "wellness", personal development, etc. reasons.

Well Shirley MacLaine seems to have got some push back for saying, basically, that the Holocaust victims had it coming.

"When westerners cling to superstitions, they are called superstitious." Or Christians. Or Jews.

A tangential comment, but I have also heard that Western fairy tales and myths are also very popular in Japan.
Hence why the name of Naussica was lifted from The Odyssey for the Japanese Anime film.

Some people believe that kami extends to robots. I've had various discussions about whether robots had kami, especially in the context of health care assistance robots. I'm not surprised that AIBO's are being treated this way. They appear to have kami and their interaction with humans is quite consistent with kami.

Yet the Japanese greatly lag behind the West when it comes to software development. Which is especially jarring, given Japan's general prominence in science and technology. The only major software technology or product to come out of Japan in 20 years is Ruby. Some of this is certainly attributable to the lack of English proficiency, or even use of the Latin alphabet. But maybe the Japanese pay too much respect to computer systems, whereas Western programmers expect computers to behave like retarded, schizophrenic children that will inevitably fail in the most circuitous and ridiculous way possible.

Similarly I'd expect that the first team that really understands the mechanics of human consciousness, will conceptualize the brain as a stinking pile of stupid meat, kludged together haphazardly by the randomness of natural selection.

Look at the video game software breakdown, it is mostly Japanese US is mostly good at touchy feely office software and money can buy good talent from all over the world.

Look at the highly technical and abstract programming domains like those in ICPC. The medal count since 2011, Japan tied with US and way behind Russia and Poland (pop of only 10M). The US glory prior to 2011 is no longer there.

oops. The url

I don't get these mocking "culture that is japanese" stuff. How about the culture that is virginia with school shootings, childhood obesity and political corruption?


You can say "oh this is novel" without being condescending, especially when you are from a place so easily mocked.

If these things were part of the culture, you wouldn't hear about them on the news.

You forgot to log into your "prior_approval" account

Needs more "director of the Mercatus Center which is funded by the eval Koch brothers and the conniving Swiss Bankers despite the best efforts of the superior German culture" to pass the p_a turing test.

What the hell is a prior approval account? I think that comment says a whole lot more about you than it does me...

No I'm pretty sure it says something about you, or at least your familiarity with the prolific posters on this blog.

This is the logical extension of long-established rites performed for inanimate objects such as needles (hari kuyo and dolls (ningyo kuyo). The intent is more about expressing respect for once useful and beloved things than about religious superstitions.

Considering the amount of junk that gets stashed away in attics, garages, and storage lockers, Americans are no less sentimental about their "stuff" (as George Carlin would put it).

So this is the third time in a few days you've essentially said that kicking robotic dogs is unethical. I honestly can't see where this comes from. If I design a robotic dog, first I test its gyro response on the bench, then I integrate the gyros into the guidance and control system and test those on the bench, but at some point I have to put the robotic dog on the ground and see if it will actually stay on its feet. I also need to know, at the system level, how big a perturbation it can withstand before falling over. In principle, I can figure these things out from benchtop tests on individual components before I assemble the robotic dog, but that is actually far more time-consuming and expensive than just putting the robotic dog together and perturbing it. Are you really arguing that we should spend that extra time and money? Even if we did, it wouldn't be as good as the actual test. Why is kicking the robotic dog worse than kicking parts of the robotic dog that are sitting on the bench? At what level of assembly does it become unethical to kick? As long as the sensor is connected to the processor, any reasonable analogy to life would hold that applying the stimulus to the sensor would be akin to kicking the robotic dog. So is it suddenly OK if I connect the sensor to a different processor, and then use the data to deduce the "actual" robotic dog's response to a stimulus?

Because you created a special bond with the robot dog.
The value is not in the dog itself, it is in the connection you had with it.

The pet rock sure has come a long way.

I think this might be more of a reflection of the fact that Japanese people are leading increasingly solitary lives due to a cultural shift that has separated young men and women. Men in Japan still want a 'traditional' subservient wife, but the women want none of it. As a result, the culture is shifting towards solitary comfort such as robotic pets, sex dolls, public 'cuddle' houses, dance clubs for women where men are paid to be companions, etc.

It's all rather sad, and doesn't bode well for the future of Japan as its birthrate continues to fall. Unless there is a major shift in the culture, Japan's population is going to crash hard over the next few decades.

Is there any evidence that cultural preferences are starting to change in Japan?

Female labor force participation hasn't budged in 20 years.

Has that been changing recently or are all of the new jobs going to men?

IIRC iRobot has had issues with people reluctant to send back their broken roombas for replacement. Customers have specially requested that their roombas be fixed vs. a brand new one sent out. Some have, in correspondence, have referred to their roomba as Rosie.

I liked the headline in The Onion:

Long-running class-action lawsuit resolved: If you owned a Tomagutchi electronic pet in the 1990s, you'll be getting a live dog in the mail.

I have thought for a couple years now that humans are through in 2050. I'm not real certain about the date. It could be off by a few years but 2050 is the year when all the futurists say machines will surpass humans in intellectual prowess. I also don't know if the new smart robot minds will chose to eliminate humans right away, but that is a real possibility that has never existed before.

This could finally be the answer to the so called 'Fermi Question' Where are they? The heavens should be filled alien civilizations - but we have not been visited? Why not? It could be simply that machine minds don't like to travel.

In any case there is an excellent chance that when your Smartphone is smarter than you are it will not see any point in you being around. Biological life is so fragile. The whole crust could be sterilized with only a few casual actions by a mechanistic intelligence.

My guess would be that our robots would keep us around for a few years just because the gap in our respective abilities wasn't that great at first. But quite soon it would be possible for the robots to recreate a human from scratch if they so chose. At that point there would not be any point in keeping humans and the expensive human infrastructure around. It would make more sense once you knew the recipe for making a human to just clean the slate and keep the blueprints. It is hard for use to imagine the possibilities because our evolution is so slow. We simply can't imagine a creature that has a thousand times our intellectual capacities. Or a million.

I'm not sure I buy that. A machine mind could easily send out probes to search for additional resources or planets to colonize. Think of it like mold spores drifting in the wind from one piece of toast to another.

A machine mind would know that its resources on planet X are limited, why would every single machine mind choose not to expand?

Muldoon, the farmer, lived alone in the countryside with his pet dog of many years. Eventually, his dog died of old age. Muldoon went to the parish priest.

"Father, my dear old dog is dead. Could you be saying a mass for the poor creature?"

Father Patrick replied, "Muldoon, I'm sorry to hear of your dog's death, but we can't be holding services for an animal in the church. However, there's a new denomination down the road, and maybe they would do something for the animal."

Muldoon said, "Thank you, Father. Do you think $500 is enough to donate for the service?"

The Father quickly responded, "Son! Why didn't you tell me the dog was Catholic?!"

Comments for this post are closed