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Many Japanese roboticists building humanoids today have sought to imbue their robots with “heart” (kokoro), which they translate into English as both “consciousness” and “emotion.”Recently, the popular media have been full of references to “emotional” (kokoro-bearing) and even “spiritual” robots, with specific reference to Pepper, SoftBank’s humanoid that debuted in 2015. I discuss (and demystify) efforts to develop Pepper’s “emotional recognition engine” based on biology-inspired “digital hormones.” In this connection, I revisit the declaration by pioneering roboticist Mori Masahiro that robots have the “Buddha-nature” within them, and consider how robotic technologies are deployed by humans to give shape and expression to their spiritual ideas and needs.
As of January 2020, Jennifer Robertson is Professor Emerita of Anthropology and the History of Art at the University of Michigan (UM), Ann Arbor. She is also an affiliate faculty of the Robotics Institute and the Institute for Research on Women and Gender (IRWG), UM, and Affiliate Professor of Anthropology and Japan Studies at the University of Washington, Seattle. Robertson’s seven books and over eighty articles and chapters address a wide spectrum of subjects in Anthropology, History of Art, and Japan Studies ranging from the 17th century to the present. Among her books are Native and Newcomer: Making and Remaking a Japanese City (1991) and Takarazuka: Sexual Politics and Popular Culture in Modern Japan(1998, Japanese edition 2000), and Robo sapiens japanicus: Robots, Gender, Family, and the Japanese Nation(2018, Japanese edition 2019). She is currently researching, writing, and editing articles on the cultural history of Japanese popular eugenics, bio-art and contemporary art, and human-robot interfaces in Japan and elsewhere.