What is it with the Japanese and robots?

Declining population is only one factor. Ancient cultural beliefs are another. I wrote about this at Mind Matters:

— Ito sees our problems as originating in the idea that humans are special and urges that we “develop a respect for, and emotional and spiritual dialogue with, all things.”

Illustrating this approach to life, in 2018, a 450-year-old Buddhist temple in Isumi held a funeral ceremony for 114 first-generation Aibo robotic dogs (“with priests in traditional robes chanting sutras and offering prayers for the departed plastic puppies.”), prior to recycling them. Production of the model had stopped in 2006 and the repair service was discontinued in 2014.

The little robots often arrive at the temple with notes or letters from their owners that state the name they gave to their mechanical companion and how they spent their time together. “Please help other Aibos. Tears rose in my eyes when I decided to say goodbye,” reads one such note, while another states: “I feel relieved to know there will be a prayer for my Aibo.” (The Japan Times) Craig Lewis, “Japanese Buddhist Temple Holds Funerals for Defunct Robot Dogs” at Buddhist Door.net

Lewis explains, “Recognizing the impermanence of all compounded phenomena is one of the fundamental tenets of Buddhism, and that of course includes cybernetic canines,” or, as head priest Bungen Oi puts it, “All things have a bit of soul.” More.


Reality check: Some cultural gaps are genuinely large. Most Westerners would either keep a dog or not. Getting attached to a robotic dog, it is true, would not appear to make sense.

See also: Would you know if a robot was writing the news? How?