HER name is MARIE, and her impressive set of skills comes in handy in a nursing home. MARIE can walk around under her own power. She can distinguish among similar-looking objects, such as different bottles of medicine, and has a delicate enough touch to work with frail patients. MARIE can interpret a range of facial expressions and gestures, and respond in ways that suggest compassion. Although her language skills are not ideal, she can recognise speech and respond clearly. Above all, she is inexpensive. Unfortunately for MARIE, however, she has one glaring trait that makes it hard for Japanese patients to accept her: she is a flesh-and-blood human being from thePhilippines. If only she were a robot instead.
Robots, you see, are wonderful creatures, as many a Japanese will tell you. They are getting more adept all the time, and before too long will be able to do cheaply and easily many tasks that human workers do now. They will care for the sick, collect the rubbish, guard homes and offices, and give directions on the street.
This is great news inJapan, where the population has peaked, and may have begun shrinking in 2005. With too few young workers supporting an ageing population, somebody–or something–needs to fill the gap, especially since many ofJapan’s young people will be needed in science, business and other creative or knowledge-intensive jobs.
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