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Came across this article on Lovot and found the Japanese perspective on robots and machine intelligence interesting so thought I would share.
But according to the founders of LOVOT, we’ve got it upside down. Care robots should be for us to care for. In 1950, Alan Turing introduced the “Turing test,” the assessment of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior indistinguishable from a human’s. Western notions of humanity revolve around intelligence and “the individual”—can an AI beat a chess champion, write an essay, or generate complex code? But the Japanese have a different relationship to technology, intelligence, and humanity, one that does not weigh the essence of humanity against intelligence but focuses instead on the relational aspects of being human.
Relationality is rooted in the Japanese language itself, as Japanese philosopher Watsuji Tetsurō has pointed out. Watsuji formulated a uniquely Japanese ethics in which he explored the notion of “aidagara,” which denotes the social relationship that exists between persons. The characters for “human” in Japanese is “人间” which translates to something like “between people” (as opposed to the Chinese character for “person,” which is only the single character 人). Of this observation, Watsuji writes,
Viewed in such a way, we can use the word ningen in the double meaning of world (seken) and individual person or persons (hito). I would have to say that this best puts into words the essence of human being […] if human being is not simply the individual person, it is also not simply society. Within human being, these two are unified dialectically.
Whereas human existence for German philosopher Martin Heidegger in Being and Time (1927) is conceived “as a being-there, an existence in-the-world but open to Being itself. […] Watsuji’s focus was on the ‘interhuman,’” according to Thomas P. Kasulis. For Watsuji, human existence does not “discover a world or constitute a world” but rather, Kasulis says, “from its very beginning, we find ourselves ‘in the midst’ of a field of engagement.” By Watsuji’s construction, it is the network of relationality which provides humanity with social meaning. To live as a person is to exist and participate in such betweenness.
Humanity, then, is not defined here through an individual alone but in relationality. As a consequence, machine intelligence poses no existential challenge to one’s sense of self. For Kota Nezu and Kaname Hayashi, we are not made more human by receiving love but by giving it. Both men used to be designers for high-performance cars—the LOVOTs are thus not low-tech products. Each LOVOT has high-performance sensors, 10 or more CPU cores, 20 or more microcontroller units, microphones, state-of-the-art luminosity sensors, thermal sensors, and room-mapping technology, which all have one aim: to incite love in us. The LOVOT website reads: “We packed all the available technologies into this small body to bring you the cuteness.” What seems like an excessive and superfluous use of technology actually raises serious questions around what technology is for—in this case, the answer is “to be more human.” As loneliness becomes an epidemic across the globe, such a counterintuitive robot, which does no work and instead demands care, could be just what we need to rehabilitate our atrophying emotional muscles.
When asked how we should think of the LOVOT, Hayashi responded that LOVOTs are like family members. “You don't love your brother because of what he does for you. You love him because he is there.” This form of love, which emerges from an almost Shinto-esque animism, struck me as a radical way of thinking about love and our relationships with each other and with the world. It is based not on utilitarian calculations but in our commitment to caring for, rather than everything that is of use, everything that is.