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Digital Hormones: Robotics, Emotions, and Techno-Spirituality in Japan

Speaker: Jennifer Robertson (Emerita, University of Michigan)

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.


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