In the west, robots are creations that do the work of humans, often work no human wants. But in
Japan, robots are viewed quite differently. That difference is seen even in the robot toys that they make and sell around the world. That difference is that robots can be friends, companions, and even deliverers. This argument is very well made in Timothy N. Hornyak’s Loving the Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots.
Take a look in any toy store and you’ll find robots, both toys and actual robots, of many sizes and shapes. Some of the cutest and most endearing are those Japanese robotic toys that look like bugs or dogs or something else. True, it sometimes seems that the USA has been conquered by Transformers, also Japanese in origin, but many the cute ones are really true robots, companionable, programmable and independent. Very different from the western conception of robots.
Loving the Machine begins by examining the Japanese tradition of clockwork toys and automatons, and continues through the Japanese’ first reactions to Karel Capek’s play R.U.R. which was translated and performed in Japan in the 1920′s. He continues through the humanoid portrayal of robots in literature and Manga and the influence that these art forms had on Japanese robotics researchers and builders.
Hornyak’s fascinating book is more than just information about Japanese robotics. Its a social history of the Japanese people and their relationship to machines and robots in particular, explaining their differences from western attitudes and the differences in how robots have integrated into western cultures.
The book flows very well and the illustrations are beautiful. The detail and comprehensiveness of the information Hornyak presents is quite amazing given the actual size of the book, which with extensive illustrations comes in at 160 pages.
And, whether you’re a robot freak or just wondering why are there all these strange Japanese robot toys, this book will be a pleasure to read.