Friday, 5 March 2010

Asimo the Robot

Last year I took some students to the Miraikan Museum in Odaiba in Tokyo. My students were engineers for a big company that makes wire harnesses for cars so they were fascinated with the prospect of going to a really geeky museum in Tokyo. And on top of that it was a day out paid for by the government, sorry I mean company. That has to be better than being stuck in a classroom with me wandering what the fuck English speakers were thinking of when they invented the present perfect.

We took the bullet train there. I only mention that because the Japanese take inordinate pride in their shinkansen mega-fast train. As much pride as I have disgust in the exorbitant prices and poor service British Rail offer.

In the museum there's a few cool things. Buzz Aldrin came by to sign a replica of a space station. He might have done it on the way back from filming the Apollo mission in some out-of-the-way warehouse in Japan. There's an imax 3-D cinema that knocks the spots off the Avatar experience. You literally have planets and stars inches away from your eyes; the whole auditorium is filled with the universe. Talk about microcosms. But the undoubted star of the museum was the appearance of Asimo the robot.

On the dot his door casing slides up and out comes the cute guy all funny gait and gabbing Japanese. He politely answers the disembodied voice that comes over the public announcement system. Then he does a bit of a dance. That'll be a robotic dance I guess. Then he kicks a ball. Quite impressive, although Peter Crouch does the dance and the ball kicking better. I think Asimo might have the edge on Crouchy as far as the Japanese goes.

Needless to say this is Japan so the audience (which is mostly composed of mothers and kids) go into hysterics of joy. They all say kawaii (meaning cute) and seem to me to be on the verge of having an orgasm of delight in this heap of metal that does some pretty average tricks.

What got me wondering is the name. Is Asimo some Japanese bastardization of the name of that great Russian sci-fi author Asimov? The one who wrote 'I Robot' - a brilliant book that sets out the three ethical rules for robot behaviour (naturally the same applies for people). The first rule being you should never under any circumstances let Will Smith turn your book into a movie.

Another thought entered my head. How appropriate or ironic (depending on how you define irony) that a nation of folk who behave so robotically should be so fascinated with an image of their own slavery to mono-thought and the big communal lie that the group harmony subsumes all other interests. I call it a lie because the government leaders  sorry I mean the company leaders don't sacrifice shit. They wallow in the decedance that mega-bucks bring.

Anyway here is the cute fella for you.

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