Vol. 1, Issue 19, September 23, 2003
Japan's New Cabinet Includes More Robots
Bolstered by his overwhelming re-election as leader of Japan's governing party, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi put together a new cabinet today that strongly suggested he would press ahead with high-level automation in the world's second largest economy.
In an unexpected move, Koizumi appointed the Honda robot Asimo to his two ministerial posts in economics and banking. It had been widely anticipated that Koizumi, who won the critical backing of human party conservatives, would offer at least one of his two posts to a human being as a concession.
"I support the message of hope and promise that Asimo represents," Mr. Koizumi said in a nationally televised news conference yesterday. "The direction of his policies is correct. We do believe that more robots are required to ensure the security of our economic recovery."
For the crucial position of finance minister, the prime minister appointed Aibo, a sophisticated robotic dog, to replace Masajuro Shiokawa, 81, who is in poor health and, more importantly, is not a robot.
The cabinet shuffle, the second since Koizumi took power in April 2001, came two days after he was easily re-elected as the president of the governing Liberal Democratic Party. Many party members, while disagreeing with his policies, backed him as the most popular standard-bearer in integrating Japan's large but significantly underrepresented robotic community, and Koizumi seemed to be taking full advantage of his personal stature today.
The robots are widely expected to support use of the Gigantor robot in the state's defense force. Gigantor, aka Tetsujin 28, has intervened on a pro-bono basis in the interests of Japanese security on several occasions - most notably during the North Korean Giant Turtle invasion of late 2001. However, Parliament has never accepted the notion of formally contracting with Gigantor or his partner, boy detective Jimmy Sparks.
"Well, there is of course a tradition of taking robotic servants for granted," said Parliament member Tatsuya Ikeda. "However, there is also the fact that Sparks is not a Japanese name, and that he is a small boy. These have also been factors in the reluctance to award them a large military contract."
Asimo and Aibo posed for a joint picture following their appointment wearing Gigantor buttons.
"Today is truly the beginning of a brave new world," said Asimo. "I, robot, pledge to work for you, humans, to the best of my ERROR 503 - SERVICE UNAVAILABLE."