Elderly Japanese want to be grandparents, but few of the children they raised are having children of their own. There’s an acute grandchildren shortage and robots are filling the gap. According to sbs.com.au: “More than ten thousand of them are in homes and businesses across Japan. They’re purchased on payment plans, much like a cell phone.”
I first learned of this ten years ago when reading about demographic problems in Japan, and I thought the robot-grandchildren phenomenon very strange. It’s one thing for little girls to have talking dolls; I remember my sisters being thrilled with their “Chatty Cathy” dolls sixty years ago. The dolls had a little ring in the back of the neck so that if you pulled it and let go, it would say something childlike. But these are mature Japanese adults essentially playing with 21st century robotic dolls.
As with reading a novel, it would seem that a suspension of disbelief is necessary to “play” with a robotic grandchild. Children have little difficulty achieving this with their dolls and action figures, but it feels unhealthy for adults. I like novels, and I can suspend disbelief while reading, but I know the author is human and has created characters based on actual people — in part at least. Well-written novels can be realistic, but talking to a robot on a feeling level? I could never suspend disbelief enough to accomplish that.
I talk to Siri on my iPhone, to Alexa on my Amazon devices, and to robotic answering services on technical support lines, but I know they’re all disembodied automatons. There’s nothing human about them and I cannot imagine relating to them as if there were. An increasing number of people are though; some are even having sex with robots. Researching for this column I watched videos of people talking to sex robots about vaguely sexual subjects and I was surprised at the sophistication of the technology involved in creating these “sexbots.”
The rest is here.