TCS: Tech Central Station - The Future of Life in America... and Around the World
Where is it written that "life" has to be carbon-based? Why can't it be silicon-based, or metal-based?
That's the thinking in Japan, where two huge forces -- the low birth rate and the reluctance to admit immigrants -- have caused a civilization-level crisis in that island nation. American consumers might be casually familiar with what the Japanese are up to; Sony's Aibo "dog" has gained attention as a novelty, and Honda has even advertised its Asimo robot in Entertainment Weekly.
But most Americans have no idea that the Japanese aren't building robots as pets or toys; they are building robots to replace… the Japanese, as they grow old and die, leaving behind few if any children. The Tokyo government calls 2005 the "year of the robot"; indeed, 'bots are the star of the show at the World Expo in Nagoya, which opened on March 25.
Are the robots humanoid, or anything close? Not yet. But soon, they will be. As a March 11 report in The Washington Post explained,
"Though perhaps years away in the United States, this long-awaited, as-seen-on-TV world -- think 'The Jetsons' or 'Blade Runner' -- is already unfolding in Japan, with robots now used as receptionists, night watchmen, hospital workers, guides, pets and more."
The Japanese government predicts that every household in Japan will own at least one robot by 2015. Indeed, even today, American Molly Wood, of CNET, visiting the Expo, writes, "I can pretty easily imagine having one around if I were, say, working at home with a young child to entertain."