Japanese robotics is having a tough time. A decade after the appearance of ASIMO, most of “next generation robots” which were considered to be promising service providers for Japan’s aging society, are still not in practical use. Life with robotic helpers and companions remains more a vision than a widespread reality. As a consequence, the “dream-oriented” concept of robotics experts has become increasingly subject to public criticism. More importantly, open attitude toward the development of non-industrial robots as well as optimism about science and technology are – especially since the nuclear disaster in Fukushima – in a state of flux.
In this talk, I deal with the adverse circumstances currently faced by Japanese roboticists, and explore its background and related socio-cultural problems. While analyzing ongoing efforts to introduce assistive robot technologies into everyday life, I aim to discuss significant challenges confronting Japan’s robot policy concerning a long-term relationship between lay people and robots. In doing so, I focus on legal and institutional issues with regard to practical applications of the relational and (more or less) autonomous machines. Objects of inquiry include the roles of different social actors whose expectations become relevant in the process of development and diffusion of new technological artifacts – such as potential users, policy makers, legal experts, etc.