Obama Afraid Of Japanese Robots
April 27, 2014

Obama Afraid Of Japanese Robots?

President Obama has recently completed a visit to Japan, a trip during which he managed to anger their very powerful and potentially very scary neighbors, China, after he included disputed islands under the umbrella of US military protection of Japan. What he came away from the visit more nervous of, though, was the Japanese robot he played soccer with.

The robot belongs to Honda and is called ASIMO, (Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility). It is the latest version of a humanoid robot that has been under development for over 10 years, and now is so impressive (Obama’s own word) that it is “too lifelike” and “a little scary” (also his own words, later admitted to students he was addressing).

ASIMO bowed to the president, spoke in English and then skilfully passed a soccer ball to him. Unsurprisingly for him, but nevertheless still impressive for a politician, Obama deftly controlled the ball with the inside of his right foot and then moved it by rolling it along the floor under his sole, as a pro soccer player would.

Mashable has some video of the president’s meeting with the robot, which can also pour and serve drinks, climb stairs and recognize faces. I have seen a very similar creation, if not the very same, play the trumpet at the Toyota car factory in my adopted home city, and also on Japanese TV saw a goalkeeper robot saving penalty kicks from professional soccer players and succeeding almost every time. There is something slightly unnerving about seeing such accomplished humanoids, although admittedly it is very exciting too.

redOrbit reported in early April that ASIMO would appear on the US talk show LIVE with Kelly and Michael, describing it as “the world’s most advanced humanoid robot” and pointing out that it can do all kinds of active stuff such as running, hoping, jumping and climbing stairs, as well as being able to use sign language in both English and Japanese. All great qualities to contribute towards Honda’s goal to “create a helpmate for humans requiring assistance with their daily lives.”

A very noble aim. Let’s hope it doesn’t just end up with the soccer playing robots slyly trying to get each other sent off or making obscene gestures to opposing fans.

At the same recent event in Japan where Obama nervously met ASIMO, he told students “Young people like you have more technology and more power than even the greatest innovators of previous generations, so there is no limit to what you can achieve.” He also told them to “gambatte kudasai” which means “do your best.” Another thought regarding humanoids which is both enticing and thought provoking is that they would never do anything other, and would never need such encouragement.

Image Credit: Honda

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John is a freelance writer from the UK, currently living in Japan and thoroughly enjoying their food and whiskey. His first novel, Three Little Boys, and his travel book, Following Football, are currently available on Amazon.com.

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