Why are Westerners afraid of robots, but the Japanese are not

Original author: Joi Ito
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[ Translation of the article by Japanese author Joi Ito, a journalist, entrepreneur, and activist working with Wired magazine .

As a Japanese, I grew up watching such anime as Evangelion [Neon Genesis Evangelion] depicting the future where people and machines merged in cyber ecstasy . Such programs made us children dream about how we would become bionic superheroes. Robots have always been part of the Japanese spirit. Our hero, Astrobic , was officially registered as a resident of Niidza city north of Tokyo - and this is quite a challenge, as any person born outside of Japan will confirm. We in Japan are not just not afraid of our new host robots, we are practically waiting for them.

Not to say that Westerners did not have any friendly robots at all, such as R2-D2 or Rosa , the homemaker-robot of the Jetson family. But compared to the Japanese, the Western world is more cautious about robots. I think that the difference in approaches is somehow related to different religious contexts, as well as historical differences associated with industrial slavery.

The western concept of “humanity” is very limited, and I think it's time to ask if we have the right to exploit the environment, animals, tools and robots simply because we are human, and they are not.

In the 1980s, I was at a meeting organized by the Honda Foundation , where a Japanese professor — I don’t remember his last name — claimed that the Japanese integrate robots much more successfully into society because of the local religion, Shinto , which still remains the official religion of the country.

The followers of Shinto, unlike the monotheists in Christianity and the Greeks who preceded them, do not consider people to be anything special. Instead, they see spirits in everything — something like a Force in Star Wars."Nature does not belong to us — we belong to nature, and spirits live in everything, including stones, tools, houses, and even empty spaces. The

West, as the professor claimed, faces the problem of endowing things with spirits and feelings, as he considers anthropomorphism , things and animals of human qualities, childish, primitive, or simply undesirable. He argued that the Luddites who destroyed automatic weaving machines that deprived them of work in the 19th century are examples of this, and to The robot was put on a cap, given a name and treated to him as a colleague, and not as a frightening enemy.

The idea that Japanese take robots is much simpler than Westerners is very common today. Osamu Tezuka, a Japanese multiplier who created Atomboyoi, noted the interconnection between robots and Buddhism, saying: “The Japanese do not distinguish between a person, supposedly a superior being, and the world around him. Everything is interconnected, and we take robots without labor, along with the rest of the world, with insects, with stones - all this is one. We have no doubts about the robots, which in the West are considered pseudo-people. Therefore, there is no resistance, just a tacit acceptance. ” The Japanese, of course, first became an agrarian, and then an industrial nation, the influence of Shinto and Buddhism retained many rituals and spirituality in Japan from the period preceding humanism.

In the book "Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind “The Israeli historian Yuval Noi Harari describes“ humanity ”as something that developed on the basis of our belief system, when we changed from hunters and gatherers to shepherds, farmers, and then capitalists. belonged, they were part of nature. Many aborigines today still live within the framework of belief systems reflecting this view. Indians of America listen to the wind and speak with it. Native hunters often use complex rituals to communicate with the victim and forest predators. Many cultures of hunters and gatherers intimately connected with the land, but do not have a tradition of land ownership, which remains a source of misunderstandings and clashes of Western colonists even today.

Only when people started farming and raising animals did we have the concept of owning other things, owning nature. The concepts that any thing - a stone, a sheep, a dog, a car, a person - may belong to another person or a corporation, the idea is relatively new. In many ways, it serves as the core of the idea of ​​humanity, of what makes people special, protected by the class, and reduces them from human positions, suppresses everything that is not human, be they living beings or inanimate objects. Dehumanization and the concept of ownership in the economy gave rise to large-scale slavery.

In the book " Branded from the Beginning: The Complete History of Racist Ideas in America ", the historian Ibram Candydescribes the debates of the colonial era of America, in which it was discussed whether slaves should be converted to Christianity. British laws postulated that a Christian could not be a slave, and many plantation owners were worried that they would lose slaves if they were converted to Christianity. Therefore, they argued that negros are too primitive to become Christians. Others argued that Christianity would make the slaves more obedient and ease control over them. In fact, these debates were about whether Christianity, which gives the slaves a spiritual existence, and the possibilities of control over them, increases or decreases. The idea of ​​endowing something with spiritual traits is alien to the Japanese, because from their point of view everything has a spirit, and it cannot be allowed or forbidden.

Fear of being overthrown by the oppressed class, or turning into an oppressed, with a heavy burden pressed upon the minds of those in power from the very beginning of mass slavery and the slave trade. I wonder if this fear is unique to Christians and Jews, and whether it can fuel the fear of Westerners in front of robots. In Japan, there was something that could be called slavery, but it never took an industrial scale. [Here the author is cunning - a strict hierarchy allowed the owner to calmly take even the life of a subordinate; see the novel "The Shogun " / approx. trans.].

Many influential people (in other words, mostly white men) of the West speak publiclyabout their fears of how robots could potentially gain power over humans, strengthening this idea in the minds of the public. However, the same people are in a hurry to build robots that are powerful enough for such a task - of course, insuring with the help of research on how to maintain control over the machines they invented, although this time the Christianization of robots is not (yet) included.

Douglas Rushkoff , whose book "Team of Humanity" is coming out next year, recently wrote about the meeting, in which one of the participants expressed fears before the rich could control the security officers guarding them in armored bunkers after Armageddon - monetary, climatic or public. Financial titans at this meeting brainstormed ideas such as collars, controlling access to food stocks, and replacing people with robots. Douglas suggested simply starting to better treat his security personnel before the revolution, but they decided that it was too late for that.

My friends expressed their concern over how I made the connection between the slaves and the robots, believing that I was somehow dehumanizing the slaves or their descendants, thereby exacerbating the already existing tension in the war of words and symbols. And although the fight against the dehumanization of minorities and the poor is important, and I often spend a lot of my strength on him, it was concentration on human rights, not on the rights of the environment, animals, and even such things as robots that led us to this mess environment. In the long run, perhaps, it is not a matter of humanization or dehumanization, but of the problem of creating a privileged class — people — which we use to arbitrarily justify, ignore, oppress and exploit.

Technology has come to the point where we need to start thinking about what rights robots deserve, and whether they deserve and how to establish and exercise these rights. Just to imagine that our relationship with robots would resemble the relationships of human characters in Star Wars with C-3PO , R2-D2 and BB-8 robots would be naive.

As Kate Darling, a researcher at the MIT Media Lab, notes in her work on expanding the legal rights to robots, there is ample evidence that people sympathize and react emotionally to social robots - even unwise ones. I don't think it's just curiosity; I think we should take this very seriously. When someone kicks a robot or cruelly treats it, we feel a strong negative emotional reaction - among the many amazing examples cited by Darling in her article is the story of the American military, who canceled the experiment with a robot that was on its feet, thus clearing minefields - because he considered the experiment to be inhuman. This is an example of anthropomorphization, and we have to think about how cruel treatment of a robot affects a person who torments him.

I believe that simply replacing oppressed people with oppressed machines, we will not correct the fundamentally vicious order that has developed over the centuries. As a Shintoist, I am obviously prejudiced, but I believe that the study of “primitive” beliefs can be a good starting point. The perception of the development and development of machine intelligence as an "expansion" of the intellect, and not as an artificial intelligence that threatens humanity, can also help.

In the process of inventing rules and rights for robots, we will probably need to build a line of conduct before we even know what impact they will have on society. Golden Ruleinstructs us to treat others the way we would like them to treat us, so the cruel treatment and dehumanization of robots prepares children and society to continue strengthening the class stratification of society that has existed since the beginning of civilization.

It is easy to see how the shepherds and farmers of old times could consider a person to be something special, but I think AI and robots can help us come to the conclusion that perhaps people are just one example of consciousness, and that “humanity” somewhat overrated. Instead of getting hung up on human centrism, we need to develop respect, emotional and spiritual dialogue with all things.

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