Japanese popular culture has also consistently portrayed robots in a positive light, ever since Japan created its first famous cartoon robot, Tetsuwan Atomu, in 1951. Its name in Japanese refers to its atomic heart. Putting a nuclear core into a cartoon robot less than a decade afte rHiroshima and Nagasaki might seem an odd way to endear people to the new character. But Tetsuwan Atom–being a robot, rather than a human–was able to use the technology for good.
Over the past half century, scores of other Japanese cartoons and films have featured benign robots that work with humans, in some cases even blending with them. One of the latest is a film called “Hinokio”, in which a reclusive boy sends a robot to school on his behalf and uses virtual-reality technology to interact with classmates. Among the broad Japanese public, it is a short leap to hope that real-world robots will soon be able to pursue good causes, whether helping to detect landmines in war-zones or finding and rescuing victims of disasters.
The prevailing view inJapanis that the country is lucky to be uninhibited by robophobia. With fewer of the complexes that trouble many westerners, so the theory goes,Japanis free to make use of a great new tool, just when its needs and abilities are happily about to converge. “Of all the nations involved in such research,” the Japan Times wrote in a 2004 editorial, “Japanis the most inclined to approach it in a spirit of fun.”