Organized Panel Session
We are often told the age of affective computing is just around the corner. This panel argues, to the contrary, that where we are today is the result of long-running efforts to establish an emotional alignment between humans and machines. Japanese roboticists have been a driving force in this effort. This panel demonstrates how the oft-cited idea of an inherent emotional affinity between Japanese culture and robots is itself the product of specific research trajectories and social agendas going back decades.
Yulia Frumer opens the panel by digging into the “deep time” of Japanese humanoid robot design, which, as she demonstrates, has long been invested in designing robots to produce positive emotional associations and avoid intimidating humans. Daniel White carries this history forward by turning to emotion modeling in the robotics of the 1980s, and how this laid the groundwork for more recent claims to offer soothing AI companions for an increasingly precarious time. Anne Aronsson then shows how this turn to technological companionship intersects with Japan’s aging population, illustrating how the use of social robots for elderly care ends up transforming the very meaning of care itself. Paul Roquet closes the panel with a focus on the emotional life of telepresence robot operators, detailing how it feels to find social connection only through the guise of a robot body. The panel brings together scholars in the history of science, anthropology, and media studies to reveal the social and political stakes of Japan’s long-running experiment with emotional robotics.