The singularity is coming: Eerily lifelike androids converge in Odaiba for exhibition



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What does it mean to be human? That’s the question being asked in a thought-provoking new exhibition of stunningly lifelike androids, which also suggests that maybe the singularity could be closer than we think.

On June 25, the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, more commonly known as the Miraikan, will open an exhibition of humanoid robots entitled ‘Androids: What makes us human?

The exhibition is headed by Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro, the director of the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory, which is part of the Department of Systems Innovation in the Graduate School of Engineering Science at Osaka University. Ishiguro is a researcher at the cutting edge of robotics technology, and is famous for creating robots that look just like humans, including the Geminoid, an android modeled after himself.


▼ The real Ishiguro is on the left. Just kidding.



Professor Ishiguro’s research is driven by the question of what it means to be human, and by studying human behaviour and reactions in order to create an android that mimics them perfectly, he believes we can learn much about the human condition and consciousness.

This newest exhibition, which will become a permanent installation, features three different androids that each seek to provoke a different set of responses and questions in visitors.




The Kodomoroid is a remote-controlled android in the form of a human child, and its name comes from ‘android’ and ‘kodomo‘, the Japanese word for child. It looks just like a little girl, but functions as an announcer, relaying information and news on the weather and situations on earth and in space. She is designed to make a statement about the lack of knowledge many of our children have about the world today, and make the listeners think more profoundly about our futures on this planet.



This name comes from a portmanteau of ‘android’ and ‘otona‘, meaning adult. Visitors will be able to try conversing with and operating this android, which is the spitting image of a real, adult human woman. Her function is to give people the experience of socializing with a robot face-to-face.



The Telenoid is an interactive android built to answer the question: ‘What are the minimum characteristics necessary for something to be considered human?’

Its neutral shape and features do not resemble any particular person, so it can take on the characteristics of any partner the viewer chooses; male or female, old or young. It’s small, and the shape and texture are designed to make it pleasant to hold and even hug, but its makers seem to neglect to mention the fact that it’s also incredibly creepy to look at. However, since it’s clearly not going to be mistaken for an actual human being, the robot probably doesn’t make it into the ‘uncanny valley’.




Another Japanese professor of robotics, Masahiro Mori, originally coined the term ‘uncanny valley’ to describe the response of revulsion among human observers when faced with something that looks almost, but somehow not quite, human. The theory goes that as a robot starts to look more human, actual humans will become more sympathetic towards it, until it reaches a certain point where it looks almost, but not exactly, like a human being, at which point real humans will reject it because of the feeling of the uncomfortable feeling it evokes.




At the same time as Ishiguro’s robots are getting closer and closer to pulling out of the uncanny valley and becoming indistinguishable from real humans, research into artificial intelligence is also progressing rapidly, and before we know it we might find that today’s far-fetched sci-fi stories have become tomorrow’s reality. The technological singularity is a hypothetical moment when artificial intelligence surpasses that of human beings, and many experts predict that it will occur during our lifetime. So perhaps it’s time to get yourself down to Odaiba to start trying to gain an understanding of our potential future overlords. You might just discover something about yourself, too.


▼ Will the real Ishiguro please stand up?



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The singularity is coming: Eerily lifelike androids converge in Odaiba for exhibition



10 things Japan does better than anywhere else, according to the international community


JA 8

RocketNews 24:


Advertising agency Dentsu recently released the results of its annual Japan Brand Survey, in which it asks people from around the world for their opinion on the country. This year’s study involved 3,600 men and women living in 17 different countries, whose responses were used to compile a list of 10 things they feel Japan does better than anywhere else in the world.

In carrying out the survey, Dentsu spoke with people living in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, the U.S., Brazil, the U.K., France, Germany, Italy, and Russia. All participants were between the ages of 20 and 59, with middle or upper-class incomes.

Roughly 80 percent of those questioned said they had either plans or a desire to visit Japan, a jump of more than seven percent from last year’s survey. When asked what intrigued them about Japan, the most common response was the country’s cuisine. Its numerous travel destinations, both urban and rural, came in second, and Japanese fashion rounded out the top three.

Being an advertising firm, though, Dentsu’s primary concern is with the perception of Japanese goods and services. To get a better grip on how people abroad feel about things stamped “made in Japan,” researchers asked participants what they felt Japan does better than anywhere else, resulting in the list below.

10. Video games

JA 1

It’s a sign of the times that Japan’s video game makers, who created and for years dominated the modern industry, only barely managed to crack the top 10. Still, even as overseas companies continue to make strides in the arenas of smartphone and social gaming, for some fans there’s just no substitute for a Japanese-made game.


9. Transportation infrastructure

JA 2

It’s telling that the list was compiled from responses from people who live outside Japan, and not in it. Residents have a number of valid complaints about the country’s narrow roads, expensive expressways, and difficult to find parking. If you’re a traveler though, or anyone else using public transportation in Japan, there’s a lot to be thankful for, as it’s hard to imagine the train and subway network being much more efficient or punctual than it already is (quibbles about service ending shortly after midnight notwithstanding).


8. Environmental engineering

7. Food

JA 3

No arguments here. While sushi was the dish most respondents reported eating, wanting to try, or just simply knowing about, Japanese food has a wealth of delicious dishes, ranging from subtle delicacies like tofu and lotus root to heartier fare such as ramen and the cabbage-and-pork-filled crepes called okonomiyaki.


6. 3D technology

5. Precision engineering

4. Cars/motorcycles

JA 4

Japan still may not be able to match Germany’s cachet in the luxury segment, and it’s facing ever-increasing pressure in the economy class from American and Korean manufacturers. That said, Japanese marques are still the go-to choice for many looking for reliably-made transportation, eco-friendly hybrid and electric vehicles, or a lightweight rear-wheel drive sports car.


3. Robotics

JA 5

Build a dancing robot like Honda’s ASIMO, earn a rep for robotics. Simple as that.


2. Anime/manga

JA 6

This one might be a bit of a linguistic technicality here. While in Japanese, the words anime and manga refer to cartoons and comics respectively, regardless of country of origin, among the international community, the terms generally refer to works made in Japan. For a lot of people, saying that Japan makes the best anime and manga is like saying Alaska produces the best Alaskan king crab.

Also, some fans are looking for completely different things from Japanese and non-Japanese animation. This makes the question of whether Japan produces “better” cartoons a tricky one to answer, sort of like asking, “Which is superior, a bicycle or an ocean freighter?” Sure, they’re both vehicles, but designed with completely different things in mind, and one isn’t really a substitute for the other.

Setting all that aside, though, if you want to see robots fighting, giant-eyed characters slowly falling in love, or some combination of the two, odds are the Japanese anime industry’s got you covered.


1. Audio/video electronics

Once again, Japan doesn’t have the same iron grip on this segment that it used to. Even as manufacturers from other countries offer alternatives with lower prices and passable quality, though, Japan still has the image of making some of the best-performing consumer electronics money can buy.

JA 7

Source: Niconico News


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10 things Japan does better than anywhere else, according to the international community


Toyota’s hydrogen fuel cell powered car ready for sale this December



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Although the technology has been talked about for quite some time now, the concept of using oxygen and hydrogen to power an automobile seems poised to finally hit the market.

According to reports, the Toyota Motor Corporation has recently declared that their sedan-type Fuel Cell Vehicle (FCV) will begin production at the end of this year. At the moment Toyota claims this would make them the first automaker in the world to market such a vehicle to the public at large.

The FCV carries a stock of hydrogen on board and uses oxygen from the air to generate power. It’s said that a single 5kg (11lbs) supply of hydrogen can carry Toyota’s FCV over 500km (310mi). This is probably a good thing since at the time of its initial launch, stations where hydrogen can be purchased will be few and far between, found in only four of Japan’s major urban centers: Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, and Fukuoka.

It’s also been reported while that the establishments of around 100 of these stations have been expected to occur over this year, they are currently behind schedule. As such the Japanese government has been stepping in to encourage faster development.



Like many new technologies, the FCV will initially sell for a high price. Previously it was expected to cost 10,000,000 yen (US$97,500), but as of this writing has been marked down to an expected 9,900,000 yen ($96,500) with hopes that certain subsidies will kick in and lower the price further over the year.

Toyota is aware that these vehicles aren’t going to sell like hotcakes in the early days and will only produce 50 cars a month when ready. The company is mainly aiming at national and local governments as well as wealthy individuals or corporations with a particular interest in eco-friendly cars as potential buyers. As such someone should probably consider setting up hydrogen stands in the ritzier parts of Japan as well.



Readers of the news reacted with cautious optimism. Several asked the questions “Where does the hydrogen come from?” and “In what way do we get the hydrogen?” The first question is by far the most important, as the method that the pure hydrogen is produced may cause a substantial amount pollution as well thus negating the whole environmental aspect of the car.

With regards to the latter question, when I first heard about hydrogen fuel cells I always imagined/hoped it’d be like those glowing energon cubes from the Transformers series, but based on this promotional video from last year it looks like you just pump the hydrogen into a tank like you do with regular old gasoline. However, this also begs the question: How much will the hydrogen cost?

Indeed, it’ll be a hard road ahead for the FCV with challenges in infrastructure, pricing, and public attitude to contend with. However, if this is truly the start of a wave of automobiles producing a small fraction of the emissions of regular combustion engines, my grey boogers may one day vanish into nothing more than bedtime stories for my grandchildren.

Source: Tokyo Web via My Game News Flash (Japanese)


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Toyota’s hydrogen fuel cell powered car ready for sale this December


“What About The Heart?”: Photos of the Japanese robotics industry




London-based photographer Luisa Whitton ‘first became interested in what she describes as “technology and it’s effects on identity, in particular its ability to create a double self” while working on a project during the second year of her BA at London College of Communication. Whitton spent several months in Japan working with Hiroshi Ishiguro, a Japanese scientist who had constructed a robotic copy of himself, and continued to work with other scientists documenting their scientific progress on humanoids.

The images that make up her series What About the Heart? focus heavily on the eerily lifelike faces that were constructed for the robots as a way to question the humanistic aspect of the subject.

In the photographs, I am trying to subvert the traditional formula of portraiture and allure the audience into a debate on the boundaries that determine the dichotomy of the human/not human. The photographs become documents of objects that sit between scientific tool and horrid simulacrum

Whitton’s images are often accompanied by transcribed interviews between herself and the scientists, which she asks questions on the philosophy and role of religion in creating such robots. In doing so the text gives access to the human side of the project, and an insight into the scientist’s pursuit of answering the larger question: what does it mean to be human as technology progresses?

Whitton is currently developing What about the Heart? for publication and researching on expanding themes worldwide to include more weird and wonderful technological niches.

via designboom


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“What About The Heart?”: Photos of the Japanese robotics industry


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3-D Printer in China produces 10 houses daily

Screen Shot 2014-05-10 at 12.21.31 PM

Weird Asia News:

Technology is really at its peak right now. In China, a construction company has started using a 3-D printer to build houses.

Using a mixture of cement and construction waste, the large 3-D printer is able to produce up to 10 houses a day, with each house costing US$5,000.

The houses’ structure and frame are made layer by layer, while the windows, roof, and furniture are placed separately.

Producing 10 houses a day could definitely help people who are homeless, given its low cost. They just have to make sure that the houses are sturdy enough for people to live in.

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3-D Printer in China produces 10 houses daily

3 D Printer in China Produces 10 Houses Daily picture


Japan Display promises 4K tablet screens that won’t kill your battery




If we draw an almost totally arbitrary line in the sand and call it “500 pixels per inch,” then smartphones now stand proudly on one side of it, while tablets still languish on the other. Japan Display is gently nudging the market forward, however, with the 4K 12-inch tablet panel we saw last year (which offered 365 ppi) and now with a 4K 10-inch prototype that delivers a much higher pixel density of 438 ppi.

Japan Display claims its 4K (3,840 x 2,160) screens have just the same appetite for energy as the regular 2,560 x 1,600 panels found in many tablets today. That means 4K slates could arrive at no cost to battery life, relative to current technology, leaving us with just the pesky financial and computational overheads to deal with instead.

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Japan Display promises 4K tablet screens that won’t kill your battery


MIT unveils shapeshifting furniture of the future at Lexus Design Amazing exhibition in Milan

Professor Hiroshi Ishii of MIT’s Tangible Media Group recently unveiled a shapeshifting table dubbed the “Transform.” The successor to the group’s previous successes with the inFORM — a tactile visual display — the Transform is its vision of what tomorrow’s furniture would be like.

Prepared for the Lexus Design Amazing exhibition in Milan, the Transform is a table composed of 1,000 square columns — each attached to a motor beneath the surface — and changes shape depending on how users interacting with it or based on a pre-set animation.


Japanese cable provider launches on-demand gaming service, will stream Sonic and Pro Evolution Soccer titles



Sony‘s PlayStation Now streaming game service is still months away from launch, but Japanese cable company KDDI is testing the idea with the app-based GameNow service, through cable. It’s the same company responsible for LG’s Smart TV game service, although judging from the title lineup, J:Com and JCN cable subscribers might not see games at the level of Devil May Cry 4 and Dead Rising 2, at least to start with.

Temper that enthusiasm a little, and expect several puzzle games and sports titles, including Pro Evolution SoccerWorld Rally Championship 3 and Sonic Adventure DX. KDDI’s Smart TV Box launched in 2012, but its new gaming service will go live at the start of March.

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Japanese cable provider launches on-demand gaming service, will stream Sonic and Pro Evolution Soccer titles


Twitter’s Top 5 Accounts Are All in Japan — Here’s Why


During an Aug. 3 airing of Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki‘s masterpiece Castle in the Sky, thousands of anime fans watching the broadcast in Japan tweeted in unison to coincide with an exciting scene during the film’s climax.

The resulting spike in Twitter activity didn’t simply surpass the previous “tweets per second” mark. It blew it out of the water. In one moment, the site experienced a whopping 143,199 tweets, more than four times the previous record. The influx of tweets was surprising. The party responsible was not.

Japanese Twitter users have set this record many times, most recently on New Years Eve 2013 when the clock struck midnight in Japan and Korea. A separate Japanese broadcasting of Castle in the Sky resulted in the tweets per second record back in 2011 and, during the 2010 World Cup, a Japanese goal during a match against Cameroon resulted in 2,940 tweets per second, a record at the time.

The tendency for Japanese Twitter users to tweet en masse is interesting, but it’s also indicative of a much deeper relationship between the country and the technology:

Roughly 30% of Internet users in Japan used Twitter in May 2013, compared to only 26% of Internet users in the United States, according to comScore’s 2013 Japan Digital Future in Focus report. (According to eMarketer, the GlobalWebIndex found those numbers to be 36% and 20% respectively for all of 2012.) The U.S.-based Twitter’s S-1stated multiple times that user growth in Japan is expected to exceed growth rates in the United States moving forward, and Twitter has more reach than any other social network in Japan, including Facebook.

Of the Twitter accounts responsible for the most all-time tweets, six of the top seven are Japanese, including all of the top five, according to social media analytics firm Topsy. While some appear to be Twitter bots, these accounts have racked up tweet totals in the millions.

comScore report chart twitter japan

Perhaps Twitter’s popularity in Japan stems from the fact that users can convey much more in 140 Japanese characters than users can with English. Perhaps, as Columbia Business School Marketing Professor Joseph Plummer suggests, the Twitter logo and name ring true with an audience that has eagerly adopted cute characters like Pokemon and Hello Kitty.

Between the records, the adoption, and the million-club tweeters, it appears that Twitter has staying power in Japan. And the Japanese culture is, in many ways, structured to support the service that relies on short, text-like messages.

The Culture

For starters, the Japanese were very early cellphone adopters, particularly when it came to accessing the Internet over a mobile device, says Thomas LaMarre, a professor at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, who focuses on the history of Japanese media. While many Americans didn’t have Internet access on their phones until the late 2000’s, Japanese mobile users were surfing the web as early as the late 90’s, he adds.

By the time Twitter came along in 2006, people in Japan were already sharing status updates and posting messages on another social network called Mixi. This precursor to both Facebook and Twitter required a Japanese cellphone number, keeping the network restricted to those in the country, while simultaneously making it necessary for users to have a mobile phone.

It was an environment ripe for a service like Twitter.

The Japanese use their devices differently than mobile users in the United States. It’s not uncommon for commuters in Japan to travel more than an hour each way to and from work on crowded, public transportation, says Plummer, who has done business in Japan for years. That leaves a lot of time to stare at your phone and update your followers.


Talking on your phone in public is frowned upon, and LaMarre says that when cell phones first became popular, it wasn’t uncommon for people to hide their faces with newspapers or magazines if they ever did need to make a call in public. Adds Plummer, “You could hear a pin drop on Japanese subways and trains. Even today, the Japanese get really aggravated at Americans who, of course, think nothing of talking on a cellphone in a subway station or the lobby of a restaurant or the train.”

In addition to Twitter’s mobile-friendly functionality, Twitter offers Japanese users another important luxury: privacy. Unlike Facebook, which works hard to ensure users are logging in with their true identity, Twitter affords users anonymity by hiding behind an avatar, an aspect of the service many in Japan find necessary, says Plummer.

And as much as it seems that Japan was built for a service like Twitter, the microblogging site is working hard to keep its relevance in the country. Twitter will be reliant on other Asian markets to help boost growth and revenue figures, making Japan an important foothold in the region.

In South Korea, Twitter faces “intense competition” from a similar mobile messaging service provided by Kakao, according to Twitter’s S-1. In India, many users are operating on phones with “limited functionality.” In China, Twitter is blocked. (A 2012 study from the GlobalWebIndex reported that in spite of this, China was still Twitter’s largest country by total users.)

Twitter listed Japanese social messaging service LINE in its S-1 as a competitor, and there’s little doubt that others will continue to surface across Asia. Twitter did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story, although there are many indications the company values its Japanese user base.

Twitter launched its Japanese version in 2008, and following the 2011 tsunami that ravaged the country, Twitter built an emergency alert feature in Japan almost a year before doing so in the United States. Japan was also the third place Twitter opened a sales office behind only the U.S. and the UK. In the company’s S-1, Twitter wrote, “we have recently focused our international spending on sales support and marketing activities in specific countries, including … Japan.”

In Twitter’s “2012 Year on Twitter” review document, nearly all of the moments, trends, and top tweets mentioned were from either the United States or Japan.


This tweet by actor Kouichi Yamadera, who does voiceovers for Japanese anime characters, was the most retweeted message of 2012 in Japan.

Twitter’s most active adopters in Japan are, not surprisingly, the countries youngest group of Internet users, who are between 15 and 24 years old, according to comScore. More and more, Japanese youth are growing up with Twitter in their pockets, and common sense says that the result will be a well established Twitter presence for years to come.

Of course, there are no promises when it comes to Japan. In a country where tech trends move swiftly, Japan’s favorite device or product at breakfast could be old news by dinner time. “Whatever is new [in Japan] will either take off and grow, like Topsy, in an extremely short period of time, or it will disappear,” says Plummer. “There’s no slow growth adoption of technology in Japan.”

For now, at least, Japan has adopted Twitter as its own — and the feelings appear mutual.