Should Japan Ban Robot Romance?

By Reno J. Tibke

Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Leading researchers and organizations around the world are beginning to seriously consider the possibility, if not the inevitability, of emergent romance between humans and humanlike constructs, particularly those imbued with some level of non-biological intelligence.

The biennial International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP) conference, scheduled for September 7-9 in Manchester, United Kingdom, is officially themed Technology and Intimacy: Choice or Coercion. In a sober and serious manner, the gathering aims to address possibilities and concerns surrounding both physical and virtual intimacy between humans and the machines and minds we’re creating.

To be clear, this is no fringe group–the IFIP was originally founded under the auspices of the United Nations and is comprised of highly regarded organizations and individuals from around the world (including Japan), all of whom work in or conduct research on information and communications technology (ICT). That this group recognizes a very real convergence across many disparate technologies, all pointing to real and distinct possibility, is a sign that we’ve hit a tipping point.

The practical and theoretical issues to be addressed at this conference are obviously universal across all human civilization, but there is a particular relevance for Japan. Specifically, it brings up the so-called “Aging Society Problem,” a phenomenon exacerbated by what recent surveys reveal to be a steadily growing ambivalence toward the institution of marriage, the prospect of having children, and in extreme cases, an abject indifference toward intimate human relationships of any kind. The logic is plain and simple: emotionally capable machines and/or software are coming soon, but large numbers of young Japanese people developing romantic relationships with them would only compound a persistent and arguably unstoppable demographic emergency.

There is an irony at work here: while the development, implementation, and export of industrial and assistive robotics are considered profoundly important to Japan’s future economy, emotional machines have the potential to further shrink Japan’s already unsustainable fertility rate (1.4 children/woman), thereby contributing to economic decline. What then do we do?

Well, it would be silly and impossible to ban robot romance. So, just as we put a great deal of thought into what further robotization will do to our manufacturing economies, we citizens should also start thinking about how machines and software will affect our love lives, and plan accordingly!

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