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Racist robots - click opera
February 2010
 
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Sat, Mar. 19th, 2005 09:29 am
Racist robots

Hitachi this week introduced Emiew, a new line of robots. "We aimed to create a robot that could live and co-exist with people," a Hitachi engineer explained. "We want to make the robots useful for people..."

Marxy immediately commented: "Keep those research labs going or there's going to be Philipina nurses running around!" Even I joined in with the Japanese-are-racists kneejerk cynicism, correcting Pal the robot's statement "I want to be able to walk about in places like Shinjuku and Shibuya in the future without bumping into people and cars" to "I want to be able to walk about in places like Roppongi and Okubo in the future without bumping into American sex tourists and criminal Chinese."

The Japan Times was more nuanced in its coverage of the robots. "Unlike the trend in other countries, including military robots in the United States, Japan has been keen to develop human-looking service robots that can easily interact with people." The implication was clear. The US robotics program is an expression of the cultural situation of the US, which means that, currently, robots in America are all about security, war, and combatting "people who hate us".

This month, eighteen American Talon robots will be sent to Iraq to join the Talons already there. "Hunting for guerillas, handling roadside bombs, crawling across the caves and crumbling towns of Afghanistan and Iraq -- all of that was just a start," reports Defensetech. "Now, the U.S. Army's squad of robotic vehicles is being prepped for a new set of assignments. And this time, they'll be carrying guns."

Now, I'm prepared to admit that racism may be one of the motives in the development of new Japanese robots. The Japanese birth rate is the lowest in the developed world, and resistance to the importation of non-Japanese workers is strong, so service-oriented robots are one solution. The "racist robots" line is a legitimate response to the new machines, but a partial one. We should also own up to a sense of wonder and admiration, and admit that by developing these robots so ingeniously, Japan is doing something that may help people all over the world.

Nevertheless, it would be a biased commentator who didn't point out that robots designed to police invaded countries with machine guns are the most racist robots of all.

DefenseTech again: "Putting something like this into the field, we're about to start something that's never been done before," said Staff Sergeant Santiago Tordillos, waving to the black, two-and-a-half foot tall robot rolling around the carpeted floor on twin treads, an M249 machine gun cradled into its mechanical grip."



The Japanese are "racist" because they don't want to be involved with other countries. The Americans are "racist" because they do. Pacifist-separatist racism versus interventionist-militarist-imperialist racism. Look! The Americans are not racist because they want to get involved with other countries, unlike the Japanese! Look, the Americans have black people in their army, unlike the Japanese SDF! And look, the American robots are black, whereas the Japanese robots are white!

White as a white person, white as in "spotlessly clean", or white as the dove of peace? The American robots have "dirty work" to do, the Japanese robots are mostly designed to do cleaning work (at the moment they're glorified vacuum-cleaners, with Segway wheels and a small vocabulary). Human bloodstains don't show up so badly on black. The black American robots will join a disproportionate number of black American soldiers in Iraq. We know why the American military is filled with blacks. Blacks in the US are the victims of the world's most unequal class gaps, and unemployment is an enormous problem for them. They end up in the army.

Black American robots are a product of American -- and global -- inequalities. American lives are so much more valuable now than the lives of other nationalities that robots are being used in high-risk jobs instead of Americans. A robot armed with a machine-gun is also a nice symbol of the "shoot first, gather intelligence later" attitude. Robots are even less capable than the US intelligence services of distinguishing who's an insurgent and who's a citizen, who's a Sunni and who's a Shia, who's a terrorist and who's a freedom fighter. Human beings can't even answer these questions properly yet, let alone robots.

Since we're talking about complexity and ambivalence, though, I will say that I agree with something Brian Eno said in a lecture at Sadler's Wells in 1992. His comment is a version of the Intentional Fallacy: the idea that it doesn't matter what the author intended, it's results and effects that matter. Eno said that liberal results can come from illiberal motivations. He cited the way LSD and the internet, which arguably fuelled the most liberal developments of the 1960s and 1990s, both emerged from experimental programs developed by the US military. I doubt many Americans would have made this observation, and I think it's precisely because Americans tend to underestimate chaos and ambivalence (cut to Donald Rumsfeld admitting surprise that Iraqis didn't fling hats and veils into the air at the arrival of American occupying armies) that they may continue to help the world by their actions. The fact that, while their current rightward swing continues, they will help, if they help, entirely by accident is neither here nor there. That's the beauty of the Intentional Fallacy.

49CommentReplyShare

stanleylieber
stanleylieber
Stanley Lieber
Sat, Mar. 19th, 2005 09:58 am (UTC)

I think sometimes you focus so much on media representation that you ignore that programs like this carry on (on both sides of the world) no matter who is ostensibly 'riding herd' over said governments. Sure, everything you say applies to the public relations policies (and gaffes) of both countries -- but is this really an insightful critique of the underlying political forces, political players, that influence the real decisions that result in these programs, irrespective of cute political labels? These specific robotics programs of the U.S. military, for example, date from the Clinton administration. And it wasn't so long ago that the Japanese were gleefully vivisecting Manchurian villagers.

While it is true that both of these developments appear to be outgrowths of each respective nation's present cultural outlook, maybe tying both approaches so crudely to the marginal social groups you have access to in either country is a bit presumptuous. The worst kind of assumption-by-reduction that leads Americans to disregard the rest of the world in the first place.

The United States is re-arming Japan, by the way.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Mar. 19th, 2005 10:28 am (UTC)

Well, I think you're also focusing on the media representations. The media reports tendencies and directions and changes and trends rather than underlying solid states. (This same tendency is a real weakness in Marxy's analysis. Incremental changes seem to him like definitive states.)

Sure, I agree with you that current US policies may be just more imperialistic versions of Clinton policies. Surely that just underlines the fact that the US is worrying whoever is in power. Clinton only left a few years ago... you have to go back to the second world war to find your examples of Japanese militarism. Atrocities in Machurian villages is not the reality of contemporary Japan, whereas war and atrocity are the realities of the contemporary US. That is a fundamental reality, and if anything under-represented in the press.

Japan has been at peace for 60 years. The US-encouraged re-armament you speak of is a worrying development. Japan will probably become a permanent member of the UN security council and be allowed to call the SDF an "army" soon. That doesn't mean that its underlying peaceful tendency will be reversed. I argue in my essay that the US acts without understanding of the intentional fallacy. They may be pushing Japan into militarism in the hope that Japan will help them police the world, only to discover that it has quite a different result. Certainly if you look at public opinion in both countries, it looks startlingly like the robots on this page.


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polocrunch
polocrunch
Polocrunch
Sat, Mar. 19th, 2005 11:10 am (UTC)

So Momus, when are you going to become a magazine editor? I think you'd be excellent in such a position - you have just the right combination of original polemic (:P) and exotic exclusivity to make me want to read your magazine each week, even if you sometimes say disagreeable things. And hey, disagreeable is good, particularly in an editor.


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stanleylieber
stanleylieber
Stanley Lieber
Sat, Mar. 19th, 2005 11:40 am (UTC)

I fully agree with this sentiment.


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discreet_chaos
discreet_chaos
Magister
Sat, Mar. 19th, 2005 11:50 am (UTC)

Though it has little to do with your theme, I'm struck by how much the Japanese model resembles "Rosie the Robot" from The Jetsons. Though now that I think about it, my impression of life in Tokyo has other similarities to the cartoon or at least it appears that way from afar, so maybe it shouldn't come as such a surprise.


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metatherian
metatherian
suckling
Sat, Mar. 19th, 2005 12:43 pm (UTC)

dog meets robot dog


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qscrisp
qscrisp
Sat, Mar. 19th, 2005 01:30 pm (UTC)

I have seen the future and it is here.

On a slightly more serious note, if that's possible, one of the greatest things to stay with me from my time in Japan was a rather depressing dilemma that may not be universal, or inevitable, but has the appearance of such at present, and is currently being acted out on the world stage in the form of war between Christian and Muslim countries. That dilemma is to do with cultural tolerance, or intolerance. To say that we have racism beat, as some people do, usually to protect themselves, is to ignore the present reality of global racist conflict. The difference between Western racism and Japanese racism, as Momus has pointed out, is that Japanese racism is isolationist, whereas American racism is evangelistic.

When I was in Japan, and still now, this dilemma depressed my unutterably. Is that our choice as human beings? I wondered to myself. I still wonder. If that really is our only choice then it seems there's not much future for humanity. Just being in Japan, and Taiwan, where I also lived for a while, I felt guilty for historical events. It's a bit like the destroying the otherness you love dilemma presented in China Girl - "I'll give you television/I'll give you eyes of blue/I'll give you men who want to rule the world." Is it impossible to love the alien up close without, in some way, destroying the alien? Of course, not everyone even acts out of motives of attraction to the other. And many might say that events have moved on since then, which, to some extent, of course, they have. But I still had to ask myself, would it not have been better if Commodore Perry had never come here, if there had never been a Meiji Restoration etc. etc. And going further than that, would it not have been better if Europeans had never been expansionist etc. etc. Even if we put aside their imperialistic intentions, is the result of cultures meeting each other always conflict or racism in a passive or active guise? The idea of universal isolationism certainly seems a depressing one to me. And yet imperialism under the mask of 'globalisation' seems, well, not much better.

My own personal, perhaps temporary answer to this dilemma is what I call individualism. In other words, quite simply, if we interact purely as individuals, with our loyalties to humanity first and culture later, then this minimises cultural clashes. Of course, some individuals will necessarily claim groupism of some sort as part of their individual identity, and problems with this philosophy arise here. Nonetheless, I cannot see any better solutions at present.

One way this individualism is manifest is that comparisons of culture to see 'which is best' should immediately become redunant. I agree with anonymous above that you should not have to list the faults of your own culture before criticising another. This implies cultural competition, which is the very problem we should be trying to overcome. Of course, one may wish to make comparisons, but we should be careful that we are doing this in order to learn rather than in order to compete.

There's more, but I'll leave it at that for now.


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mckibillo
mckibillo
Sat, Mar. 19th, 2005 02:18 pm (UTC)

Why do you incessantly use this rhetorical device of pitting Japan vs. America? Why does one positive observation on Japanese culture inevitable require a complimentary negative one of America? are they really such binary opposites? What's the deal?

Could you possibly have such a cartoon-like notion of America? And if so, why would you possibly bother writing for so many American publications/websites?

I get your observations on Japanese culture, and occasionally agree with them. But why must you reflexively pull America into the mix? After all, America will be finished fairly soon as it is. You should start considering how China will rock your boat.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Mar. 19th, 2005 04:25 pm (UTC)

Actually that's a good question. I was thinking about why this emerges as a theme in my writings so much. I think the answer is that there's a hidden third element to this binary, which is the "superstate" in which I live, Europe. (Actually, I had the same thought about Nathan Barley. If that show is a critique of both the style press and the tabloids, its hidden third element is the broadsheets.)

Let's look at the wars and robots issued raised today. Japan has racist isolationist robots, America racist imperialist robots. In Europe we don't have robots or imperialism. We have Turks, Poles, and others to do the very jobs the robots in Japan will be doing. And instead of having to invade other countries to bring them into the sphere of our influence, we have them queuing up to join the EU. So we need neither robots nor wars. My real position is not "It's either Japan or America". My real position is a European one. I'm actually very proud of being European, and I think the EU superstate is the world's best hope for a sane and humane future.

Admittedly Europe is a bit boring, but peaceful expansion is the way to go, and as I've said before, I very much support Turkey's application, and would welcome other Islamic nations too. I think, long range, there's even a chance Russia will join us, although I'm not sure Britain ever will. Britain will form "Angrael" with the US and Israel instead. Angrael will become an ultra-paranoid masonic-capitalist security tri-state, hovering like a masonic eye about a pyramid, protected by killer robots, enormous walls, and one billion security cameras, traversed by mobs of mangy super-poor homeless dreggoes and ruled by ultra-rich alpha lords.


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kojapan
sibby d.
Sat, Mar. 19th, 2005 05:46 pm (UTC)
when i think of robots with guns...



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(Anonymous)
Sat, Mar. 19th, 2005 09:48 pm (UTC)

Most of your CDs are bought by Americans, not Japanese.


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polocrunch
polocrunch
Polocrunch
Sun, Mar. 20th, 2005 09:41 pm (UTC)

But which nation bought the most per head?


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sparkligbeatnic
sparkligbeatnic
Sat, Mar. 19th, 2005 10:13 pm (UTC)

Eno said that liberal results can come from illiberal motivations. He cited the way LSD and the internet, which arguably fuelled the most liberal developments of the 1960s and 1990s, both emerged from experimental programs developed by the US military.

This is hardly surprising given that a huge percentage of research in the USA is funded by the military. Or in other words, most (not all) research is not seen as valuable unless one can demonstrate military applications.

Something that you need to comes to grip with yet is that Japan, or at least the Japanese government regardless of public opinion, is the USA's closest ally and vice versa. Japan still pays huge amounts of money to keep American military bases on its soil. And Japan is financing the burgeoning American debt, partly due to its extravagant military budget. Furthermore the Japanese government recently agreed to participate in the controversial missile defense program (Star Wars).

So, while yes most Japanese would prefer theirs to be a pacifist nation their government is intimately wrapped up with the activities of a very non-pacifist friend.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Mar. 19th, 2005 10:34 pm (UTC)

I hinted at that above, with:

They may be pushing Japan into militarism in the hope that Japan will help them police the world, only to discover that it has quite a different result.

The different result in question being, that when Japan can change its constitution and step out from the American nuclear umbrella, perhaps it will no longer need to pay for America's wars, military bases, etc.


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sparkligbeatnic
sparkligbeatnic
Sat, Mar. 19th, 2005 10:41 pm (UTC)

予約席

An example of Japanese pacifism. The book says "Buddhism and Pacifism". When I was at this restaurant a couple of weeks ago there was a discussion going on about the Yasukuni visits.

And another example:



Interestingly this girls style looks almost German-activist-green rather than Japanese. No makeup, short hair, bandana.


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sparkligbeatnic
sparkligbeatnic
Sat, Mar. 19th, 2005 10:47 pm (UTC)


A few years ago I heard this style described as "kankyou undou obahan", or "Auntie Enviromental Activist".


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klasensjo
klasensjo
klasensjo
Sat, Mar. 19th, 2005 11:06 pm (UTC)

A cool scenario would be three different robots programmed with artificial intelligence (facts, rules of conduct, inference mechanism and so on) from the US, Japan and Iran. Since the fundamental facts would be dependent on nationality/religion/history and so on, one would have very interesting conflict/problem resolving scenarios. This could be very good TV show, in fact.
Episode 1: Life support
Episode 2: Negotiation
Episode 3: A god
Episode 4: Love/Sex
Episode 5: Morals

Ohh, no guns allowed.


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kineticfactory
kineticfactory
this is not your sawtooth wave
Sun, Mar. 20th, 2005 12:27 am (UTC)

I think there was something a while ago about a robot game tournament (either a ball game or some sort of robot-wars demolition derby or such), with entrants from the U.S., Europe and Japan. The American robots' programming tended to concentrate more on attacking their opponents, whereas the others' was less aggressive and more cooperative. I can't remember the actual details though.


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sloancallen
sloancallen
sloancallen
Sun, Mar. 20th, 2005 06:13 am (UTC)
i didn't know there was a racist robot contest.

but if there is i guess the american robots win? (?)


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dzima
dzima
ralf dziminski
Sun, Mar. 20th, 2005 08:42 am (UTC)

Momus, can I drop you an email? I just have something to ask.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Mar. 20th, 2005 09:17 am (UTC)

Sure you can, Ralf. It's

momus(andalittletwirlysignmeaning"at")t-online.de


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Mar. 21st, 2005 06:58 pm (UTC)
Japanese Re-armament?

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/China/GC19Ad05.html


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Jan. 18th, 2006 08:44 am (UTC)
[b]China Tries to Hide the Truth About Japan's military[/b]

[b]China Tries to Hide the Truth About Japan's military. [/b]

January 12, 2006: China is trying to make their people believe that Japan is a military threat to China. One way China does this is to point out that Japan’s military spending is $42 billion a year, compared to $26 billion for China. Japan’s more modern weapons are also highlighted, as well as Japan’s decades of aggression in China, which only ended in 1945, when the United States nuked two Japanese cities.

Japan has responded by pointing out that China has nearly ten times as many troops (2.2 million versus 230,000), and a defense budget of over $30 billion. That’s because many items Japan counts as defense costs, China does not (like R&D, some logistics and transportation items). Moreover, 45 percent of Japan’s defense spending goes to salaries, while less than 20 percent of Chinese spending does. Although Japan does not like to admit it, it’s high tech weapons cost a lot more than they should (because of low production runs and the use of highly paid Japanese, instead of offshore, workers). Another painful fact for the Japanese is that 5-10 percent of their defense budget goes to things like soundproofing the windows of homes near Japanese air bases. Japan is much more sensitive to relations with civilians living near military bases.

Another vital point is that China has nukes, and Japan does not (although everyone acknowledges that Japan could equip itself with nuclear weapons in a year or so.) Chinese generals will admit to themselves, but not in public, that, man-for-man, Japanese troops are more effective. But not so much that Japan’s armed might could be considered superior to Chinas. While Japan’s defense budget has been shrinking every year since the late 1990s, China’s has been growing. Thus any detailed discussion of the subject, like this one, is forbidden in the Chinese media, because it would clearly show that China's military power is growing, while Japan's is not.


http://www.strategypage.com/htmw/htiw/articles/20060112.aspx


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Feb. 14th, 2006 05:11 pm (UTC)
Re: [b]China Tries to Hide the Truth About Japan's military[/b]

Hey,

Many truisms above. Good reading.
But quite a gap between March 2005, and January 2006...

And now that the UNHRC is urging that Guantanamo be
closed, perhaps Koan and Kobans will be put to *ahem*
good international use. No Torture Treaty signattory
Japan. Mums the word.

Latest J-think about discrinmination of an African-
American, who came back to an eye-glass shop.
He simply did not "get the hint" the first time.
www.debito.org/mcgowanhanketsu.html
(for in-depth analysis)


Ja,

KT Tokyo

PS: Japan has no nukes? Er, check with Thailand.


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