Robots and Artificial Intelligence in Contemporary Japanese Society

Date: June 10, 2018, Sunday
Location: Sophia University, Yotsuya Campus, Building 10, Room 301
Hosted by Institute of Comparative Culture, Sophia University

For many decades, robots and artificial intelligence have been part of a technological imagination that fuels research in the sciences in Japan. Since 2014, they have been central figures in the “committee for realizing the robotic revolution,” and, since 2016, the government’s “growth strategy council on investment to the future.” Following the long silence since the dog-robot AIBO was released in 1999, the first humanoid robot, Pepper, was introduced to the world in 2014. It is now common to see such robots in the streets of big cities like Tokyo. As such technologies seep into people’s everyday lives through education, elderly care and commerce, there is more need than ever for scholars in the humanities and social sciences to pay attention to the ways that these technologies shape and are shaped by human practices. This one-day symposium is an opportunity for scholars from diverse disciplinary backgrounds to bring their knowledge and perspectives to bear in realizing a richer and more nuanced study of robots and artificial intelligence in contemporary Japanese society.


This one-day symposium will be held at Sophia University in Tokyo. The primary language will be English; no simultaneous translation will be provided.

Organizer: Keiko Nishimura (


10:00 Room opens
10:25-10:30 Opening Remarks
10:30-11:15 Robot, AI, or Smart Devices? What classification problems tell us about technology and society (Keiko Nishimura)
11:15-12:00 Homecare and Robotic Care Devices in Japan (Susanne Brucksch)
12:00-12:45 Designing the workplace with AI and robots (Arisa Ema)
12:45-1:30 Lunch Break
1:30-2:15 Robotics and Cultural Inheritance (Kojiro Honda)
2:15-3:30 Like a Person: a gynoid speaks its mind (Elena Knox)
3:30-4:15 First Encounters in Human-Robot Interaction: Exploring Technical Methods for Affective Anthropology (Daniel White and Hirofumi Katsuno)
4:15-4:55 Final Discussion
4:55 Closing Remarks

Speakers (in alphabetical order)

Arisa Ema is Assistant Professor at the University of Tokyo and Visiting Researcher at RIKEN Center for Advanced Intelligence Project in Japan. She is a researcher in Science and Technology Studies (STS). Her primary interest is to investigate the benefits and risks of artificial intelligence by organizing an interdisciplinary research group. She is co-founder of Acceptable Intelligence with Responsibility Study Group (AIR) established in 2014, which seeks to address emerging issues and relationships between artificial intelligence and society. She is a member of the Ethics Committee of the Japanese Society for Artificial Intelligence (JSAI), which released the Japanese Society for Artificial Intelligence Society Ethical Guidelines in 2017. She is also one of the organizers of “IEEE Ethically Aligned Design, Version 1 Workshop in Japan” in the spring 2017. She obtained Ph.D. from the University of Tokyo in 2012 and previously held position as Assistant Professor at the Hakubi Center for Advanced Research, Kyoto University.

Susanne Brucksch is senior researcher at the German Institute for Japanese Studies (DIJ) Tokyo, member of the Social Science Section and co-organiser of the Social Science Study Group. From 2009-2016, she has been working as senior research fellow at Freie Universität Berlin and was visiting researcher at Waseda University in 2016 collecting data for her current research on «Technical Innovation and Research Collaboration in Japan: The Biomedical Engineering Sector». Before, she spent two years in Japan with a MEXT and DIJ scholarship conducting research for her dissertation on «Environmental Collaboration between Business Companies and Civil Society Organisations in Japan ». She also holds post as member of the board and Technik-STS Section leader of the German Association for Social Science Research on Japan (VSJF).

Kojiro Honda is Associate Professor of Medical Ethics and Academic Writing at Kanazawa Medical University. From 2004-2006, he worked toward launching the engineering ethics course as a member of Applied Ethics Center for Engineering and Science at Kanazawa Institute of Technology. Between 2007-2010, he launched an academic writing course at Doshisha University. He served as a as a research coordinator of ITEC (Institute of Technology, Enterprise, and Competitiveness in Doshisha Business School) in 2011, studying history of Japanese science policy. From 2012 he has taught medical ethics at Kanazawa Medical University. His main subject of research is philosophy of technology, especially philosophy and ethics of "Transhumanism". He was one of foundation members of Society for Applied Philosophy of Robotics in 2011.

Hirofumi Katsuno is Associate Professor of cultural anthropology in the Faculty of Social Studies at Doshisha University and Associate Researcher of the European Research Council research group Emotional Machines: The Technological Transformation of Intimacy in Japan, located at the Free University Berlin. His primary research interest is the socio-cultural impact of new media technologies, particularly focusing on the formation of presence in technologically mediated environments.

Elena Knox is a media and performance artist. Currently a Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) research fellow in Intermedia Art and Science at Waseda University, Tokyo, she is an affiliate of the Creative Robotics Lab at Australia’s National Institute for Experimental Arts (NIEA), and co-directs production house Lull Studio. She gained her PhD in Media Art from the UNSW Australia (2015 Dean’s Award), researching performativity in gynoid robots and presenting her findings in the solo show Beyond Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Knox’s artwork is presented in premiere venues internationally.

Keiko Nishimura is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Communication at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Interested in Cultural Studies, she is investigating the intersection of technology and society, especially robotics and artificial intelligence in Japan. Her current project focuses on how different actors’ conceptualization of communication and affect may be intertwined with different imaginaries of futures, producing modes of social relations that involve technological objects. She is currently a Visiting Scholar at Sophia University Institute of Comparative Culture.

Daniel White is a postdoctoral researcher in the Institute for Japanese Studies at the Free University Berlin and Senior Researcher within the European Research Council research group Emotional Machines: The Technological Transformation of Intimacy in Japan. Trained in cultural anthropology, he analyzes cross cultural approaches to affect and emotion in cultural policy, public institutions, and in the rapidly advancing fields of affective computing and artificial emotional intelligence in Japan, Europe, and North America.

A flyer of this event in PDF can be downloaded from HERE.