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In Session: Technology and the Human “Touch”: Histories of Automation and Interconnection in Japan
4: Conceptualizing Robotic Agency: Social Robots in Elder Care in Contemporary Japan
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
Anne S. Aronsson
University of Zurich, Switzerland
As a hyper-aging society, Japan has one of the highest life expectancies in the world and is undergoing a demographic transition that Western nations have yet to experience. As the population ages, the workforce shrinks. The increasing number of elderly Japanese thus have fewer and fewer caregivers to meet their needs. Hoping that robots will make up the growing gap in the workforce, Japanese authorities have adopted an agenda of introducing social robots to assist in the work of elderly care. The Japanese government is encouraging robotic solutions in response to a shortage of labor for the elderly, but the introduction of social robots in the realm of care can be perceived as contentious. As anthropomorphic robots proliferate, Japanese society is increasingly experiencing the phenomenon of people becoming emotionally attached to such machines. As the availability of sophisticated electronic devices continues to grow, this rising phenomenon will expand, both in Japan and globally.
Ultimately, the specific aims of this paper are the following: first, to explore the extent to which the make-believe simulation of affection produced by social robots—mainly through high‑definition cameras as well as voice and facial recognition functions—causes us to reconsider our human nature and the "second nature" (Turkle 2015) we have built; second, within the context of care, to investigate how emotional technologies reshape notions of caregiving and companionship within the social context; and third, to examine the forms, functions, and effects these affective bonds have on the elderly on an individual level.