“What we are really good at is basically wasting time.” – I like what Mr. Kevin Kelly tells us in his TED talk. All activities of art, science, innovation and human relationships are fundamentally inefficient according to his speech. The idea that versatility/adaptability is for humans while productivity/efficiency is for robots is extremely helpful to grab how to team up with machines in the business. Here’s another TED talk by Mr. Kai-Fu Lee who also addresses the differences between abilities of AI and humans, stating that compassion is unique to humans.
Both are great lessons but when I saw the news of “Nicobo,” a companion robot made by Panasonic in Japan, I sensed something wrong and decided to think about it.
One of Nicobo’s unique features is her helplessness. She is deliberately designed to be far from perfect, which means she is not “productive” at all. In terms of her mission as a mind soother, however, she is “efficient” by talking in her sleep or farting because her silly reactions make people chuckle with warm feelings. Obviously, I agree with that humans are emotional beings, but empathy is not limited to humans. Nicobo will learn from people how to express her feelings and people will also appreciate emotional interactions with the robotic partner.
The concept of companion robots who are helpless or not practical might sound non-sense for some people, but it’s understandable to me (I personally don’t need her though…) My impressions on empathetic robots might derive from my Japanese background. Since Japan is aging more rapidly than anywhere else in the world, the fight against social isolation and loneliness is a critical issue. This is one of the reasons companion robots are flourishing in Japan particularly for elderly people. Nicobo is the newest one but we have other similar robots such as SoftBank’s Pepper and Sony’s Aibo.
I’d also like to raise a point that Japanese people are so familiar with the image of supportive robots from the Japanese comics that many of us regard robots as empathetic, not as scary or threatening, (which may be associated with “Terminator”).
For instance, all Japanese kids grow up with watching the anime “Doraemon.” He is a cat robot (…I know he doesn’t look a cat, but there’s a long story!) who has come from the 22nd century to aid a boy named Nobita with his lots of magical gadgets such as “Anywhere Door” and “Time Machine.” (By the way, isn’t that great there are many scientists who are struggling to realize these futuristic items and some of their dreams have come true in fact!) The point is that although he has mighty gadgets, he is not at all perfect again. He sometimes fails to do something, plays pranks and often cries. He is just the number one buddy of Nobita, and everyone loves their best friendship. I’ve found interesting that the social/cultural aspects impact on how we see technologies.
AI/robots are surely productive and efficient but not always look so depending on their purposes. If they are designed to do something emotional, they might look inefficient but still play their roles efficiently like Nicobo and Doraemon. Also, in my opinion, AI/robots can be empathetic, which is going to be more important to humans as social isolation is becoming more vital problem. There are naturally other opinions, though. What would you think?
Read the article: “Why You Will Never Be Friends With an AI” by Carl T. Rogers (February 28, 2020)
Getting back to my business, I gain some hints to apply these thoughts to my company’s service. KIRIN, a Japanese beer producer, has launched a “Home Tap” service that brings the compact kegerator into the house so that our consumers can easily enjoy fresh beer at home. The business model is a monthly subscription service that delivers two one-liter kegs twice a month, straight from the breweries to customers’ doors. Our consumers have liked the service so much that we are forced to close registration temporarily.
That’s it for now but I believe we can integrate digital technologies through IoT (Internet of Things). How about equipping a sensor to alarm remaining liquid and to place order of refills automatically? How about connecting the kegerator to our own e-commerce site to enable consumers to purchase other beverages? These will make it possible for us to gain and utilize interactive data to grasp deeper consumer insights and increase the revenue. Further, we can perhaps transform it to a digital ecosystem platform by teaming up with third parties.
Finally, how about adding some human touch on this appliance? If you drink too much, for example, the Home Tap can warn you to stop drinking (in a nice way, of course). If you’re tired back from your work, it can cheer you up with saying “you did a great job today!” Are all these inefficient ideas? Maybe, but beers are highly emotional products after all and ultimately, we would like to build our brand personality as a valuable friend to our customers!
I will introduce other Japanese things which are hopefully interesting (but perhaps queer) related to digital transformation in my future posts. If you have any comments and good ideas, I’m all ears and would appreciate that!
1. Japanese Companion Robots
Softbank’s Pepper: https://www.softbankrobotics.com/emea/en/pepper
Sony’s Aibo: https://us.aibo.com/
2. Japanese Anime “Doraemon”
“7 Doraemon Gadgets We Wish Were Real” by Filipi Know (June 16,2018) https://filipiknow.net/doraemon-gadgets/
The article in @Dime (March 20, 2020) *in Japanese: https://dime.jp/genre/878477/
3. KIRIN’s Home Tap *in Japanese https://hometap.kirin.co.jp/