Manufacturing intimacy: Are Japanese robots the perfect companion?

Robot hands creating a heart shape. Manufacturing intimacy: Are Japanese robots the perfect companion?
© iStock/koya79

Japanese robots are popular, providing companionship to the increasingly socially isolated and aging demographic. But can an emotional relationship really be artificially manufactured?

The Japanese robots are manufactured to establish a loving and caring relationship with humans, but Professor John Wyatt, an ethicist on developments in AI and robotics, asks just how meaningful a connection can be established between a human and a robot. The professor has teamed up with a Media production company, owlinspace limited, and the Faraday Institute to produce a video assessing this ethical question.

One Japanese manufacturer claimed that their goal is to produce machines “which can love and care for humans”. While this is not limited to Japan, Japanese robotics have had mass appeal, with over ten thousand robot companions currently residing in homes and businesses in the country.

Studies show that loneliness is as detrimental to our physical health as smoking up to fifteen cigarettes a day. There have also been studies associating social isolation and cancer progression in non-human models. Potentially, a companion robot could increase the standard of living for people who are lonely and isolated.

Can love be engineered?

The studies show that the companion robots for elderly people can relieve feelings of loneliness and depression. But for Professor Wyatt, the question remains of how far machines can go in satisfying the human need for love and care.

Below the video shows the most cutting-edge companion robots in Japan, with the story of a young girl who tries to form a relationship with her robotic companion. This part of a new series for social media, “Science & Eternity,” which connects science and the human experience, exploring how technology interacts with human emotions.

The next video will address the question of whether machines can surpass humans in the future, and is accompanied by footage of the most developed humanoid Japanese robots.

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