Current Institutional Affiliation
DC Bureau Chief, Yahoo News

Award Information

Abe Fellowship for Journalists 2014
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Reporter, Freelance
Beyond Human: An Exploration of Japan's Robotic Culture

This proposal seeks to understand the connections among science, technology and popular culture in Japan's robotics industry. Japan, in large part because of its post-war culture and legal restrictions on military weapons, has largely focused on civilian applications for robots in the past. Yet the lack of Japanese robots at Fukushima, at least in the early days after the disaster in 2011, raised a host of questions: Why were Japan's lauded robots so unprepared for the disaster, and what impact would that failure have on the future of research in this field? My research proposal will address these questions by looking at how Japan's social and political culture has shaped its robotics research over the past few decades, while also exploring how Japan is now adapting to pressure to expand its robotics work into military and security roles as a result of Fukushima. I would interview roboticists and researchers at institutes, universities, and private industry around the country. I would also speak to lawmakers, policymakers and military officials involved in funding robotics research, to better understand how they see the future of robotics in Japan. I would travel to Fukushima, which has become an international test bed for a variety of new and experimental robots, which are now finally being used in the cleanup effort. This visit would provide a rare opportunity to see how robots are actually being employed, and what researchers are learning from real-world experience.