Stirring passion and individualism in a technological society
It’s a Saturday morning in August: Tokyo University’s Yasuda amphitheatre is full as 30 youngsters and their self-built robots compete in the final of competition that attracted 15,000 participants. Artist, inventor and robot designer Tomotaka Takahashi says his aim is for participants to create robots to fulfil their own passion, not to improve society.
What would you like this contest to do for its participants?
«Design is critical – it is what makes you want to communicate with the robot»
I want them to keep building robots, with their hands – to find problems and solve them, and create something they’re really passionate about, not for someone else, or to help society. It is important, to be honest with your own passion. I want these kids to be unique and not to follow others, as Japanese people tend to do.
This experience will help them afterwards. Regarding what they have created, people will find a use for their work in the future. I don’t care what kind of career they choose, whether they become employees, entrepreneurs or anything else, I just want them to be creative.
How important is design?
The design is critical – it is what makes you want to communicate with the robot, which is a precondition if you want to become emotionally attached to it.
What do we need robots for, in 2017?
Up to now, robots have been used as toys or for research, but now they are becoming part of our daily lives. With Alexa, the invention of Amazon, they went from ‘smartphone’ to ‘smart speaker’. I believe the next step will be a communication robot, and I see it coming within the next five years.
How do you feel about artificial intelligence?
I believe it is safer than human decision-making. A lot of chaotic things are happening in the world right now as a result of politicians, religions and hazardous human decisions. By contrast, decisions are taken by artificial intelligence in a more calm and rational way. Unlike Elon Musk, I am not scared of AI at all.
«When a product is improved sufficiently, the market for innovation evaporates»
What has led to the decline of Japanese global leaders such as Sharp, Toshiba and Panasonic in areas like screens and computers?
The reason is simple: when a product is improved sufficiently, the market [for innovation] evaporates. Screens and computers are too perfect [to improve much more]. We need to focus on the next big innovation, which I think will be in the robot segment.
Where do you see Japan and technology in 10 years’ time?
I’m very optimistic because Japanese people are very familiar with technology. The country is both a major market and a strategic hub for technological development.