A Response In Japan To Low Birthrates And Labor Shortage: Humanoid Robots

When there are fewer humans to fill certain jobs, businesses turn to different *creatures.*

Kawada Industries' NextAge humanoid robots
Kawada Industries' NextAge humanoid robots
Yann Rousseau

TOKYO - Only 1.03 million children were born in Japan last year. During the same period, 1.24 million people died. Since the country's net migration rate is close to zero, the Japanese population therefore decreased by more than 200,000 citizens in 2012. And this trend is accelerating fast.

Government projections estimate that over the next two decades, Japan will lose nearly a million people per year. “We have less and less potential workers, and youths don’t want to work in factories anymore,” observes Katsuhiko Maruo, director of the Glory Ltd. factory in the Saitama prefecture, north of Tokyo.

“In Japan, the robots are the future,” sums up Maruo, who – in a world first – has entrusted an entire assembly line to humanoid robots.

A few meters away from the human workers, four robots -- with an articulated head and small cameras for the eyes, two arms mimicking human movements attached to a torso, mounted high on wheels -- are assembling the tiny elements of a money-sorting machine that will be incorporated into a cash register.

Each robot can execute up to 15 different tasks and is able to plug – if necessary – different tools into its hands. Once it is done assembling, it passes the component to the next humanoid on the production line and reorganizes, by itself, its own workstation by putting away trays of screws, rubber or plastic components. If any pieces are missing, the humanoid turns around and grabs a full tray in the stock just behind him. It then proceeds to slowly peel off the plastic film protecting the most fragile pieces.

“They can be up to 80% as productive as humans. The real difference lies in the fact that they don’t take weekends or days off and they also work at night,” says Maruo with a smile. He has already implemented 13 humanoids in his factory, together with dozens of industrial robots. “Normal robots work fast and very precisely, but they don’t have the ability to execute different kinds of tasks and are not as flexible and dexterous as humanoids,” he explains, in front of a workstation where a humanoid is working alongside a young woman.

Added value

Glory Ltd, one of the world leaders in money-handling machines, has been working with Kawada Industries for almost a year now in order to finalize the development of his new “employees” – NextAge humanoids. Kawada, the Japanese leader in robotics says they want to free humans from menial, repetitive tasks so that they can focus on tasks that create and generate added value. Kawada provides the machines and helps its clients develop software as well as the robots’ “hands.” Humanoid robots are not just equipment, they are now partners, says Kawada.

Glory Ltd. says each humanoid robot cost them 7.4 million yens (60,000 euros). This represents a year’s salary – payroll costs included – for a normal worker. “The investment is paid back in less than two years and each humanoid only consumes 1,600 yens (16 euros) worth of electricity per month,” explains Maruo, who adds that introducing these new machines didn’t provoke any social movement in the company.

The group is expecting a 10% growth in net profit for this fiscal year starting April and hasn’t laid off any personnel with the arrival of the machines. Three hundred and twenty humans are still employed in the Saitama factory where more robots will soon be arriving.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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