Childless Japan turns to robot babies

From Marcus Roberts at MercatorNet:

Currently the number of children that the average Japanese woman can expect to have over her life is around 1.4. This is well below the replacement fertility rate for developed countries of about 2.1 (Japan hasn’t had a fertility rate that high since the 1970s; hence its current population decline). The absolute number of babies being born in the country each year has halved in the last 40 years to around one million while the proportion of the population that is made up of children (those aged 14 and under) is now down to 13%.

Aside from there being fewer people of child-bearing years than in previous generations, one in ten Japanese women will never marry, and there is even a “celibacy syndrome”, meaning that many Japanese will never have children. We have blogged previously about one, slightly bizarre, attempt at ameliorating a lack of children in one small Japanese village. Today, I wanted to bring you a more mainstream solution to the problem of childlessness.

Toyota’s non-automotive department has developed a “baby robot” called the Kirobo Mini (see the photo above). The robot is designed to “invoke an emotional connection” with its owners, has artificial intelligence and a camera so that it can “recognise” the person speaking to it and can respond. Presumably without the trouble and expense and mess of having a dog. More.

Reality check: Who will inherit Japan if not Japanese? Any thoughts on that?

What’s fascinating is that the Japanese have been noted for thinking themselves culturally superior to, say, Chinese and Westerners. But they are nonetheless willing to allow themselves to become extinct and their culture to be wiped out. Thoughts?

See also: Other instances of trying to get robots to care, some pioneered in Japan:

Robotic caregivers are a bad idea (but not just for the obvious reasons) If we look at it from an economic perspective, the pension money a senior spends on assisted living is not wasted. It is recycled back into the economy as someone else’s salary.

Robotic surgery: Paging Dr. Carebot? At first glance, it sounds impersonal, sterile. But there are pros and cons.

Serious argument: The right to marry a robot This is an argument for the right to marry something that is not human and not a self. Forcing others to recognize one’s machine as a spouse would be a social triumph, of sorts.

People seem to be turning against the i[can’t]Carebots—robot caregivers for the elderly

Would you marry an intelligent robot or just stay single? Such scenarios depend on the assumption that a machine can be conscious.

Just what the doctor did not order: The doctorbot The art of medicine is to persuade the patient at risk to help himself heal.