TOKYO — Almost everyone stood when the bride walked down the aisle in her white gown, but not the wedding conductor, because she was bolted to her chair. The nuptials at this ceremony were led by "I-Fairy," a 4-foot (1.5-meter) tall seated robot with flashing eyes and plastic pigtails. Sunday's wedding was the first time a marriage had been led by a robot, according to manufacturer Kokoro Co."Please lift the bride's veil," the robot said in a tinny voice, waving its arms in the air as the newlyweds kissed in front of about 50 guests.
The wedding took place at a restaurant in Hibiya Park in central Tokyo, where the I-Fairy wore a wreath of flowers and directed a rooftop ceremony. Wires led out from beneath it to a black curtain a few feet (meters) away, where a man crouched and clicked commands into a computer. Japan has one of the most advanced robotics industries in the world, with the government actively supporting the field for future growth. Industrial models in factories are now standard, but recently Japanese companies are making a push to inject robots into everyday life.
Honda makes a walking child-shaped robot, and other firms have developed them to entertain the elderly or play baseball. Kokoro, whose corporate goal is to "touch the hearts of the people," also makes giant dinosaur robots for exhibitions and lifelike android models that can smile and laugh. The company is a subsidiary of Sanrio Co., which owns the rights to Hello Kitty and other Japanese characters. "This was a lot of fun. I think that Japanese have a strong sense that robots are our friends. Those in the robot industry mostly understand this, but people mainly want robots near them that serve some purpose," said bride Satoko Inoue, 36, who works at manufacturer Kokoro.
"It would be nice if the robot was a bit more clever, but she is very good at expressing herself," said new husband Tomohiro Shibata, 42, a professor of robotics at the Nara Institute of Science and Technology in central Japan. The I-Fairy sells for about 6.3 million yen ($68,000) and three are in use in Singapore, the U.S. and Japan, according to company spokeswoman Kayako Kido. It has 18 degrees of motion in its arms, and mainly repeats preprogrammed movements and sounds.
A bit older but relevant...
Robots could demand legal rights (via BBC News)
Robots could one day demand the same citizen's rights as humans, according to a study by the British government. If granted, countries would be obliged to provide social benefits including housing and even "robo-healthcare", the report says. The predictions are contained in nearly 250 papers that look ahead at developments over the next 50 years.
Other papers, or "scans", examine the future of space flight and methods to dramatically lengthen life spans. "We're not in the business of predicting the future, but we do need to explore the broadest range of different possibilities to help ensure government is prepared in the long-term and considers issues across the spectrum in its planning," said Sir David King, the government's chief scientific adviser.
"The scans are aimed at stimulating debate and critical discussion to enhance government's short and long term policy and strategy."
The research was commissioned by the UK Office of Science and Innovation's Horizon Scanning Centre. The 246 summary papers, called the Sigma and Delta scans, were complied by futures researchers, Outsights-Ipsos Mori partnership and the US-based Institute for the Future (IFTF). The reports also explored the future of manned space flight. The papers look forward at emerging trends in science, health and technology. The scans explore a diverse range of areas from the future of the gulf stream and the economic rise of India, to developments in nanotechnology and the threat posed by HIV/Aids.
As well as assessing the current state of thinking the research also examines the possible implications for society. The paper which addresses Robo-rights, titled Utopian dream or rise of the machines? examines the developments in artificial intelligence and how this may impact on law and politics.
The paper says a "monumental shift" could occur if robots develop to the point where they can reproduce, improve themselves or develop artificial intelligence. The research suggests that at some point in the next 20 to 50 years robots could be granted rights. If this happened, the report says, the robots would have certain responsibilities such as voting, the obligation to pay taxes, and perhaps serving compulsory military service.
Conversely, society would also have a duty of care to their new digital citizens, the report says. It also warns that the rise of robots could put a strain on resources and the environment. "These scans are tools for government to identify risks and opportunities in the future," said Sir David.
Also read counterpoint from the Times
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