[OPE] Japan looks to a robot future

From: Gerald Levy (jerry_levy@verizon.net)
Date: Thu Mar 27 2008 - 08:19:20 EDT


I would treat this story with suspicion: the forecasts of robot
growth take no account of the overall marcroeconomic 
situation.  There seems to me, also, to be more than a 
little unrealism in the article associated with the pace with which one
can expect advances in robotic technology.  The forecast
for increases in the robot population seems also to be tied to
unrealistic expectations concerning both the growth of wages 
and projected decline in robotic cost.  The claim by an industry 
CEO that "Soon, robots could even replace low-wage workers
at small firms" was not contextualized in terms of either
the international economy or different sectors of the 
Japanese economy.

Still, there are some interesting stats in the article: e.g.
about 40% of the total world population of robots is in Japan.
(NB: There used to be a measurement issue here because what
was counted as robots in Japan were not all counted as
robots in other countries: i.e. there were different definitions
of robots employed internationally.  One can't tell from the
article what definition is being used.) This suggests that part of 
the disproportionate growth of robots in Japan, in terms of the 
percent of the global diffusion of robots, is related to 'special 
conditions' in Japan. The article asserts  that age distribution in 
Japan is a major stimulus for increased diffusion: "the country is 
betting on robots to replinish the aging work force".   I question, 
though, some of the factors asserted in the article: e.g. in the 
section "Friendly helpers" [!] , the author suggests that part of the 
reason why robots are socially accepted is because of the
"Japanses psyche" and beliefs associated with the Shinto 
religion. I could, perhaps, be convinced otherwise, but this 
sounds very suspicious and problematic.

Overall, this article seems to me to be an example of the 
over-estimation of the projected pace of technological
change that we see so often in the mass media.

In solidarity, Jerry

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