Saturday, January 14, 2012

Star Wars and Earth Wars: Robots, Droids, Drones and People

"I'm C3PO human cyborg relationship and this is my counterpart R2-D2" - C3PO to Luke

Robots? I love them.

Droids? Excellent!

Drones? Not so much. I don't really like them. 

Don't confuse robots, droids and drones. They are all very different. I like the kind of droids you'd see in a Star Wars movie like R2D2 or C3PO. It's drones that I don't like... Besides metallic casings, I might be talking about the kind of drones many people might refer to as "suits."

Actually, in this case, it could even be worse than "suits." At least the "suits" are usually people with what is at least referred to as a "higher education." Chuckle. I mean, they paid big money and got themselves into major debt by avoiding reality after high school by going to college. You know what I mean? College and university are great places to screw around and waste time while you figure out what you want to do with your life and postpone the inevitable as long as possible.

In all fairness, and for the sake of complete disclosure, let me state openly that I did go to university and waste, not four, but six years. But let me also say that I was lucky and, upon graduation, I wasn't even one cent in debt. I worked my way through college.... Hell, it was better than studying! I wrote about how John Belushi convinced me to go to university once. Please refer to: John Belushi, Japan and me - or How the Movie Animal House Changed my Life

But I digress....

I'm talking about Robots, Droids and Drones.

Japan is way, way, way ahead of the United States when it comes to this sort of thing. You can go into Tokyo, say Shinjuku, Shibuya or Akihabara - especially Akihabara - and see robots, droids and drones everywhere you look. In Japan, these things are not unusual so people don't bat an eye.

Don't believe me? It's absolutely true, so help me god. Let me explain. First, I suppose we have to clarify our definitions.

Robot: "A device that automatically performs tasks, sometime repetitively." "A mechanism guided by automatic controls." "A fictional machine whose lack for the capacity of human emotions is often emphasized."

Droid (exactly: Android): "A mobile robot with usually a human form." "A Linux based operating system for cell phones and computers."

Drone: "A stingless male bee that has the role of mating with the queen. It does not work by gathering nectar or pollen." "One that lives on the labor of others." "A vessel guided by remote control."

Drones do stupid things like get hacked or shot down. 
Just lifeless shells is all they really are.

Aha! Got that about drones? They are "vessels guided by remote control." Keep that in mind. That's really what this article is about. I will get onto that in a minute, but first let me continue my train of thought...

Now we're ready? Okay! 

Like I said, Japan is way ahead of the United States (and I include Europe in that too) when it comes to this sort of "mechanical thingy" thing. Need evidence? Let's examine!

Early American toaster (left) - Modern Japanese toaster (right)

Robots. Of course, in every one's house there are many robots that perform simple tasks. My favorite home robot is the kitchen toaster. The toaster was invented in the 1870's in England, but much refined by the Japanese in the 1960's. The friendly kitchen toaster is my favorite robot because it is cheap and can provide much more entertainment on a cold winter night than any TV program on the lobotomy box ever could! Toast? Ummmm! Which would you rather have to warm you up with that hot sexy someone under the blankets on the sofa? A hot piece of buttered toast and fresh strawberry jam that can be munched together or 30 minutes of Dog the Bounty Hunter reruns? Not a difficult call to make, is it?

Interestingly, both "Toast" and "Dog" have roughly the same IQ 

In Tokyo, robots are everywhere and they are fashionable and stylish... In the stylish area, we also have much gratitude to give to the French and the Italians who are excellent at making things that look fabulous, but don't work so well and break down quickly.

Some examples of French and Italian things that look nice but don't work are the Maginot Line, Alitalia, and Fiat automobiles.

Fiat getting well over 100 kilometers per liter of gasoline!

If you really think about it, robots are not such a big deal anymore. Like I mentioned about toasters. What home doesn't have a toaster today?

Now, let's look at androids (we'll call them droids). Android phones are everywhere in Tokyo. In fact, recently, I think I've been seeing more of those than iPhones recently. If the definition of a Droid (above) is correct then, we even have one in my home. It's called a "iRobot Roomba." Okay, well I take that back. Actually, I think it is not called a "Roomba." Roomba is the famous one. Those are very expensive. We bought a Korean made model (forget the name) that does the same thing for half the cost. This automatic vacuuming droid is just like R2D2. Really! He does a good job for certain tasks but can be awful stubborn and does dumb things sometimes like falling down the stairs, so you have to be careful with his programming on where you specify are his work areas. I like the fact that he can vacuum the carpeted floor, then go to the tatami floor, then over to the wooden floor and all under the dining tables and chairs without my wife lifting a finger. Pretty cool.

I often wondered what year she'll be "deflowered" in?

It is also awesomely cool in that the fact, get this, the guy himself (sorry about calling it a "he" - my wife insists that the "butler do the vacuuming"), when done, automatically searches and finds his home station and parks himself there after the job is done so his batteries can be recharged... He also beeps and pings like R2D2. Really!

In Tokyo, we also have robots and droids that make ice cream, sushi, and manufacturers cars and work on assembly lines too. Of course.

Yeah, yeah. He vacuums and does everything. But if I ever catch him in bed with my wife, out he goes! Unless, of course, he can introduce me to one of his android friends. 

Wow! Isn't life in the modern world wonderful? Well, yes and no. If you are a robot or droid and have a useful function to fulfill, then you are probably happy until the days that your circuits burn out. If you are a human and you have a good job with a good future, and a nice family, a place to live, then you are probably happy.... But if you are a drone? Oh no! If you are a drone, then you are nothing; you are just a shell, you have no life; you are the lowest of the low; even robots and droids don't respect you. 

And, if you are a human drone?

Human drones? Now, that's the worst thing in the world.

Folks, we have human drones. In fact, if you think about it, they are all around us: These are the people who can't think for themselves. They have be told what to do and what to think. They cannot function without someone showing them the way and telling them exactly what to do. The worst ones are the ones who need to be repeatedly told (programmed) to perform a function before they will do it - even if it is the very same function everyday! They have human drones in America and they have them in Japan. Are they the same? In many ways, yes, but in many ways, no.

To go too deeply into the subject of human drones and the difference between one in Japan and the west, would take volumes of books written by someone with a PhD. who is much more intelligent than me. I can only write about surface issues that I witness with my own eyes. I do not know the deeper issues; the "why's" and "what for." And I don't want to talk about human drones in the USA. Let me off the hook easy by allowing me to only tell you about human drones in Japan.

Human drones are everywhere in this country. Poor folks.... No! I take that back. Maybe they aren't folks to be pitied; maybe they are to be envied. Heck, if they are happy, then I envy them... Thing is that I have never seen a happy drone. 

In Japan, these human drones work at menial labor jobs everywhere you go. You see them at restaurants and working at cash registers. They are the ones doing the lowest of the menial labor tasks. Since Japan doesn't have a problem with an influx of foreign laborers, then, you will see Japanese young people performing these tasks.

I suppose that, if I am to pity these human drones, then I must criticize the Japanese educational system and Japanese society as a whole for teaching too much conformity and not enough creativity... But I am hesitant to do that and criticize Japan for too much conformity. Why? Well, what example am I to hold over Japan to say, "See? This is how it's done!" I think I certainly cannot use the example of the social decline and the resultant level of crime in the west as and yard of measure. I do believe, though, that the Japanese educational system is guilty of not teaching enough critical thought and too much conformity... I can say that because I had children who spent a few years in both Japanese public schooling and in International schools in Japan and high school in America.    

Oh pity the human drones... Well, at least they have a job.

Now, parents of high school kids or young people just out on their first jobs, don't confuse what I am saying here. I am not saying that everyone who cleans tables or stands behind a cash register or works at a convenience store is a drone. Far from it. I'm saying the ones who do not smile, are not energetic, do not think for themselves and must do everything by the manual; the ones who show no life in their faces; no enthusiasm for their work those are drones. They are the ones to be pitied.

There are far too many of them in Japan.

Now, do you understand what I mean by a human drone? They could be the guy working at a bank or a bureaucrat like in the Kurosawa movie, "Ikiru." Or it could be like the people you see when you go shopping or to a cheap restaurant. There they are: lifeless, the walking dead. Those are the people who should be pitied.

Well, now, there I've done it. I think I took what was a fun and full of life article at the start and turned it into a real bummer by the ending. Sorry about that. So with that, let me tell you about a story that I heard from a friend last night about his recent experience with a human drone at a cheap eatery.

In Japan, whenever two or three (more?) adults go into any sort of cheap eatery or restaurant, when the patrons are finished and about to pay the bill, it is customary that the clerk will ask them, "Will you pay the bill together or separately?" In Japan, asking this to customers is a "rule." This rule is a part of what is called, "Manual Dori" or "By the Book" (マニュアル通り).  The reason why Japanese companies (and companies like McDonald's, etc.) have to create these "Manuals" is that they aren't really hiring rocket scientists. No, folks, they are hiring, in many cases, human drones - of course they wouldn't if they could find spry, alert, and gregarious, positive outgoing people - alas...

Anyway, back to my story about my friend's experience with the human drone. My friend is the father of two handsome young boys who are of junior high school age, about 13 and 14 years of age. Together, the three of them went to eat at Yoshinoya Gyudon. Gyudon is known in the west as "Beef bowl." It is a bowl of rice that has beef and vegetables cooked in a sauce that is poured over the rice. Many Japanese men (and some women) on the go love to eat this. I used to also until I just about stopped eating beef.

Upon finishing their food, the father and the two boys walked up to the cash register where they met their human drone for that day.

Now, if you were at the cash register and saw a guy in his late forties, maybe early fifties, with two boys half his size that looked to be junior high school students, deeply immersed in their held held DS computer games, what would you think? Do you think:

A) "Gee! This looks like a dad with his two kids. That'l be $9.00, please. Do you need a receipt?"
B) "I wonder if these three gentlemen are all gainfully employed or are they Yakuza gangsters about to rob the restaurant at gunpoint?"
C) "I wonder when the new DS game software comes out?"
D) Nothing. Absolutely nothing. You don't have a single synapse. You repeat the manual like a drone.

If you said, "D" then you are a winner.

My friend is standing there, with his wallet open. The two kids next to him are playing Super Mario and the clerk says, "Will you pay the bill together or separately?" Doh!

Parents! Don't let your children grow up to be drones. Why? Well, if they are drones, one of these days someone is going to come out with a useful robot, like a toaster and your kid will be out of a job. Don't they deserve better than that? I hope so.


Ryu Oni said...

This post brought a couple of things to mind. The first is an old Japanese proverb; 出る釘は打たれる, The nail that stands out will be hammered down.
And also, a recent popular Drama; Kaseifu no Mita, where the main character purposefully forces herself not to feel emotion, giving up her own free will.
I think Japan is all too aware of this culture that's growing, the "drone culture", if you will. But I don't think it's doing anything to stop itself, though, either...such a shame.
I guess it's up to use foreigners to teach Japanese to think for themselves! =D

Anonymous said...

It seems strange doesn't it, we are creating robots that are more and more human, and at the same time, humans are becoming more and more robotic. Who can take credit, and who can take blame for our current situation?