🔬 Research summary by Connor Wright, our Partnerships Manager.
[Original paper by Naho Kitano]
Overview: Technology is not going anywhere anytime soon, so why not respect it for what it is? The approach adopted by Japanese culture is to recognize how natural and technological phenomena have a soul that intertwines with ours. The result: a beautiful sight of human-technological relations indeed.
Have you ever felt your soul harmoniously intertwined with a technology you are using? As part of the Japanese government’s aims for techno-integration, the Japanese tradition appeals for harmonious integration for the benefit of society. While the mystical element of this approach is notable, it creates a beautiful sight of what human-technology relationships can look like. Technology is now here to stay, so we may as well start off on a positive note.
The robotization of society is presented in a positive light
To appropriately set the scene, the robotization and technologization of society are seen as a positive in Japanese culture. Interestingly, the change is seen as so much of a positive that the efforts placed on ethical considerations are not too deep. For, it is a cultural assumption that robots will be designed to keep the society’s ethical values anyways. One way to explain the Japanese people’s confidence is through exploring the role of spirit.
The existence of spirits
A strong Japanese cultural belief resides in how natural phenomena have spirits. Traditionally, this applied to the sun, moon and mountains, which had their own spirits and associated Gods. Subsequently, each God had a name and was assigned characteristics while having perceived control over natural events. Thanks to the technological revolution, the belief was expanded to artificial objects, which are believed to have souls in harmony with those of humans. Such belief consequently affects how the Japanese people interact with these objects, pleasantly seen when applied to tools.
How this applies to tools
Artificial tools made out of natural and unnatural phenomena possess anima (a soul). When in contact with humans, these objects are seen to work in tandem. Both the human and tool anima work harmoniously together. The relationship runs deep, seeing as tools are often companions for life, leading to them bearing names. Resultantly, the tools were traditionally inscribed with the owner’s name and its date of first use when it took on its anima through coming into contact with humans.
The relationship between the human and their tool is respected even after it is no longer in use. Even today, tools that break are not thrown away but taken to a temple to be burned divinely. A sign of respect to how intertwined the instrument had become with its human. For example, in 2005, Tmsuk Co. Ltd. took their robot creation KIYOMORI to the shrine to pray for its success.
However, what is the benefit of all of this?
Why talk about spirituality?
It is important to acknowledge that the spirituality mentioned is not to advocate for a tool’s subjectivity, but to show how it relates to its owner. It takes on and bears a spiritual connection with its human owner from the first minute it’s used, forming the basis of the Japanese “Rinri” (“Ethics”).
“Rinri” is the study of achieving harmony in human relationships, offering a guide on forming and maintaining lasting human relationships with the natural phenomena surrounding us. Each individual has a responsibility to the social wellbeing of their community. For example, in 2004, Mr. Koda apologised for disturbing the social peace and causing harm to the people of Japan due to the diplomatic storm created with his travelling to Iraq. Guided by the attitude of “social harmonization over the individual subjectivity”, the spirituality of Japanese culture aims to foster a lasting relationship with technology. We see an interconnected reliability on one another; the tool on the human for its anima and the human on the tool for the task at hand.
This is a wonderful sight if you ask me.
Between the lines
Thanks to my links with Ubuntu philosophy (see previous research summary and panel discussion), I’m a fan of the interconnectedness and community-orientated approach offered. I think relating to technology in this way readjusts how we are to use it, namely for the benefit of the community we live in. While there are warranted concerns about what kind of relationship derives from this interconnectedness (such as sexual), grounding the action in respect is the way to go. By respecting the technology for what it is and can do for us, we can better learn how to develop this relationship with others.