October 2008

Japanese see robots as answer to demographics, aging population

The population of Japan is aging.

The birthrate is not adequate to even maintain the present population numbers much less provide for growth.

As well, Japan is notoriously fickle about welcoming foreigners for any extended period of time and as for immigration, well, that just does not happen.

Japan is in the midst of a crash effort to create robots that can supplement its dwindling workforce reported Trends e-Magazine. With more than a fifth of population already over 65, developing robots has become a national obsession.

The government has devoted $42 million to developing the humanoid robot-Kansei-at Meiji University and will put another $10 million a year into it between now and 2010, when the industry will produce revenues of $26 billion. By 2025, experts reckon that figure will rise to $70 billion.

Japan is a natural outpost for robot technology to flourish. The Shinto religion does not draw the same distinctions between the animate and inanimate that people in the West do. The Japanese have no trouble imagining a robot that can think and feel.

Moreover, 370,000 robots, about 40% of the robots in the world were already at work in Japanese factories by 2005. Japan's trade ministry issued a national technology roadmap calling for a million industrial robots to be at work throughout the country by 2025. Each robot would replace 10 employees, so that number would replace 15% of the workforce.

Given this trend, Trends e-Magazine offers five predictions:

First, by 2025, robots will become commonplace in home and in non-factory workplaces, disruptively transforming employment in the service sector.

Second, service robots will replace humans in any job in which work is repeti tive, monotonous, requires continuously high levels of concentration, is physically demanding, or takes place in dangerous environments.

Third, the U.S. will seriously compete with Japan for dominance in service robotics design, simply because small-scale tools are now making it easier to tap into the entrepreneurial culture in its free market economy.

Fourth, some of the most successful service robots will emerge from the type of hobbyist culture that produced companies like Apple and Microsoft.

Fifth, the drive toward commercializing service robots will create an industry that will rival today's consumer electronics industry.