Geopolitics

How Five Countries Are Integrating Robots Into Daily Life

Robots and AI are slowly making their way into our daily lives
Robots and AI are slowly making their way into our daily lives
Natalie Malek

People in Asia already trust robots enough to let them take care of their loved ones and deliver the evening news. Meanwhile, a hitchhiking robot's world tour successfully passed through Germany, the Netherlands and Canada, but the American leg of the journey was cut short when it was decapitated and beaten to death in Philadelphia.

Yes, we humans are an unpredictable and diverse lot. And inevitably, different regions of the world are bound to perceive artificial intelligence in different ways. Here is how five countries are incorporating robotics into their cultures... On their own terms.

China

Robots in China are widely welcomed with open arms. They are programed to work as receptionists and clean windows around the house. The South China Morning Post reports that China's Xinhua state news agency has developed two news anchors using artificial intelligence. The "anchors," named Xin Xiaomeng and Qiu Hao, are based off of real people. They can mimic facial expressions, lifelike movements, and speak both English and Chinese.

Qiu Hao, one of Xinhua's AI news anchors — Photo: China Xinhua Sci-Tech

China has also applied artificial intelligence to its education system. China Daily says that Keeko, a robot-teacher, has made its way into kindergarten classrooms in more than 200 schools across the country. It encourages interactive learning by sharing stories and helping children solve logical problems. Its round head and big eyes give it a "cute" appearance, appealing to children under the age of seven.

Japan

In addition to using artificial intelligence to ease domestic burdens like laundry and elderly care, Japan also sees it benefiting more serious industries down the line. Japan Today reports that Japan's ambassador to the U.N. recently defended the use of "killer robots' under human supervision at a conference. While the country doesn't condone fully autonomous armed robots, he said that it can see a future where robots save labor costs and reduce collateral damage in a military setting. The Asahi Shimbun says that Japan believes human oversight is crucial in this situation.

The country also plans on bringing robots to the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo, the Japan Times says. Organizers are developing robots to assist visitors and staff during the event. Some of the technology has been developed to specifically help spectators in wheelchairs by guiding them to their seats and by carrying their heavy belongings. Massaki Komiya, the committee's vice director, said they want robots that are "friendly to people….and enhance convenience at events, as well as provide the audience with a new experience."

Thailand

Perhaps the world's most striking— and most controversial — robots are in Thailand. Built with bright red eyes and yellow uniforms, a small army of robots now work at Mongkutwattana General Hospital in Bangkok. They are busy each day ferrying documents from office to office along magnetic strips— a menial task nurses once did. The hospital insists that this advancement is not undermining human employment. Hospital director Reintong Nanna assured Newsflare last year that "these robotic nurses help to improve the efficiency and performance of working in the hospital ... They are not being used to reduce the number of employees."

France

While European robots tend to look more like machines than real people, they are still taking over human jobs. French chefs may find themselves unemployed sometime soon as artificial intelligence starts to infiltrate the culinary industry. Le Parisien says that a robot named Pazzi in Montévrain, France, can prepare, cut, and serve a pizza in less than five minutes and create 500,000 unique recipes. The start-up behind this three-armed metal chef, Ekim, is aiming to launch a restaurant in Paris and Val d'Europe by the end of the year.

Pazzi, Ekim's robot pizza chef — Photo: pazzi_tastemakers via Instagram

Human valets may fade into oblivion as well. At the Lyon Saint-Exupéry Airport, robots are parking cars in two minutes. According to a France Info video clip, this is how it works: you leave your car in a designated garage and the robot picks it up and stores it in the parking lot, optimizing space by essentially playing a game of Tetris with your car. The technology has allowed the airport to have 50% more space in the lot and only costs travelers an extra 2 euros. The system is already making plans to expand to Charles de Gaulle and London Gatwick airports.

United States

Americans may be the least open to incorporating robotics into daily life — a 2018 Brookings Institution study revealed that 61% of adult internet users in the U.S. are uncomfortable with robots. Another poll showed that 84% explicitly stated that they are not interested in a robot that helps care for loved ones.

Nevertheless, artificial intelligence has moved into the U.S. healthcare industry. Some doctors are maximizing their time by conferencing into hospitals to talk to patients through a video chat. Their faces appear on a screen that sits atop a 5-foot-6-inch robot. One version of this, Dr. Bear Bot, makes rounds at Children's National Hospital in Washington, D.C. The robot made its debut on Valentine's Day and handed out greeting cards to young patients around the hospital.

Dr. Bear Bot — Photo: Children's National Hospital

Though Dr. Bear Bot successfully garnered popularity among children in D.C., one robotic doctor in Fremont, California is having a harder time. Ernest Quintana, 79, was being treated in Kaiser Permanente Medical Center's intensive care unit when a doctor, via video chat, told him that he would not survive because his lungs were failing. His granddaughter, Annalisia Wilharm, was with him at the time and was shocked by the delivery of the news.

"No granddaughter, no family member should have to go through what I just did with him...I was so scared for him and disappointed with the delivery," Wilharm told CNN.

Since the incident, the hospital has disputed the use of the word "robot" to describe the technology. If Americans are reluctant to even use the term "robot," artificial intelligence may not make it very far.

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Society

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

-Essay-

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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