Uncanny Valley

Uncanny Vally, the pseudo-scientific hypothesis in robotics that as robots become more human-like but not entirely human, it will cause revulsion in its human observers.

The 'valley' on the graph indicates the level of likeness which will cause revulsion

So why is it that the Japanese are racing headlong into the development of artificial intelligence, especially those which bear a creepy resemblance to humans? Meet Actroid-f, made by the Japanese company Kokoro, which can mimic the facial expressions of its operator.

“Cameras and face-tracking software follow a remote operator so facial expressions and head movements are reproduced in the robot in a master-slave relationship via Internet link. ” Reports CNet

In this video, Actroid-f is dressed as a nurse to fill her intended purpose of an observer nurse in Japanese hospitals. I am not sure how the presence of these humanoid robots will function to reassure their future patients.

Not only has Japan reserved a niche for robots in their future work force, robots has always had a strong presence in popular culture which is not surprising given Japan’s obsession with technology. Anime and Manga characters such as Astroboy, Arale and the cyborgs of Ghost in the Shell are hugely popular.

Astro Boy - The original AI

But when you look at the underlying themes of these stories, things get a bit more complicated. The ‘ghost’ inside the shell is the whisper of the consciousness of the artificial intelligence, and Astroboy and Arale are treated like real children, albeit with super powers and perhaps this established presence of robots in pop culture explains the acceptance in Japan for the uncannily life-like robots.

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Japan’s Prime Ministerial rotating door

On the second of September, Japan welcomed its 95th Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda after he won the run-off vote to succeed Naoto Kan following Kan’s resignation.

Noda (54) – who famously compared himself to a bottom feeding loach in his bid for PM – was the former Minister of Finance, and the sixth man in five years to hold the position of Prime Minister.

To put this into perspective:

Former Prime Minister Kan resigned amid plunging approval ratings and heavy criticism of his handling of disaster recovery. His predecessor Yukio Hatoyama resigned after he broke his campaign promise to close down a controversial American naval base in Okinawa.

Noda has a daunting task ahead as the new PM, having inherited the task of rebuilding after the catastrophic March earthquake and tsunami and the consequent nuclear disaster at Fukushima. On top of that, there is the fractioning in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and the country’s economic stagnation and soaring Yen to be dealt with.

But according to Takashi Yokota of Newsweek, Noda is a hard-nosed politician with a clean career unbridled by scandals who is a likely candidate to bring Japan out of many of its woes.

“Noda is a competent technocrat who can speed the pace of reconstruction, reunify his governing party, and rein in the country’s rising currency,” Says Yokota.

“Despite his bland reputation, the politician displayed grit and mettle on the campaign trail.”

Ganbatte kudasai ne, Noda-sama.

Konnichi wa, minna-san!

After years of contemplating a career in writing and then going to university to pursue said career, I am finally starting a blog!

This act of blogging, I am assured by most of my university lecturers/ journalist know-it-alls, is a must have for anyone who is serious about writing – to make a prescence for themselves on the interwebs. But while I love reading blogs, I had trouble pin-pointing one topic in which I am obsessed with, as all my favourite bloggers seem to be with their chosen topic.

I pondered and debated until I though back to myself a few years back when I was doing my undergraduate in Japanese Studies, I was rightly obsessed! I loved everything about Japanese culture; I like anime, J-pop, furos and cherry blossoms, as well as the war in the pacific, the yakuza and Japan’s self implosion as it sped along into the future. I took in the good and the bad, EVERTHING was interesting.

With this blog I hope to bring to readers a certain voyeuristic look at Japan and the idiosyncratic practices embedded in everyday Japanese culture. This won’t be about the over the top absurdities which many associate with J pop culture such as tentical porn, nope, this will be about Japan as experienced by an everyday observer.

I will leave you here with a welcome present – “ponponpon”, the chart topping single by blogger, model and all round Harajuku girl Kyary Pamyu Pamyu which has clocked more than four million views on Youtube in two months. It’s fun, colourful, insane and randomly jammed packed with cute and strange things, and perfectly representative of youth culture in Tokyo.