Konnichiwa robot, sayonara human? - Construction and domestication of robots in Japan
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This thesis explores the robots of Japan in a historical and cultural context, to see how they are co-produced among a wide variety of actors in a network. It is seen both from the creators' side, through their scripting of what a robot should be understood and used as, and also from the user-side, through domestication of the robots. I focus on how the concept of “boundary-objects”, have developed through Japanese history and laid the foundation for robot acceptance. Different understandings of the concept “robot” has been constructed through a cultural-, religious- and social-historical context, leading towards the science fiction representations of robots in manga and anime. Japanese people living today have read about and seen robots in fiction all their lives, a fictional script that has lead the engineers and inventors of real robots. In order to understand the robots in the Japanese society, I decided to seek them out, and have thus done one year of field-work in Tokyo and Osaka, in Japan. Methodologically, the thesis draws on observations and interviews in laboratories and science museums. How the people working on robots think about them are crucial in order to understand the robots themselves, and how people act around robots is greatly affected on the amount of “humanism” they perceive the robot to have. I also explain how it is to control a robot-twin, and see the challenges it raises when “he, she and it” becomes intermingled, and the gender and linguistic questions it arises when talking to and about robots. Lastly, I follow the robots out of the laboratories, and into society, to see how they affect users as a welfare-technology. Japan is a rapidly aging society, and in dire need of manpower, especially in the welfare sector. One solution is to use robots for certain tasks, such as fetching of medicine, walking assistance and cuddles. How the elderlyusers accept and domesticate robots tells us a lot on what roles the robots can and can-not do, and also how they can be developed further. Constructing an identity of a robot nation thus consists of many elements that together co-produces the network at large, with an underlying cultural acceptance of boundary-objects, such as robots.