Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Automation as Shinto imitation and integration

Wendy M Grossman looks at modern robotics, and picks up on something I've been vaguely thinking about recently - the difference between automation replacing people, and augmenting people.

Replacing people feel like a naturally capitalist thing to do, because people are expensive, because they need to buy things but do this inefficiently. They're at the fat edge of the consumer cycle, and so capitalism needs to decouple the "wealthy" consumer from the "cheap" mode of production as much as possible - to integrate them is to just fatten up your own production line and (literally) eat into profits.

Integration, on the other hand, is about being human - humans as tool-users, and tool-users but not just to make for profit but also to make for creativity, for experimentation, and for reflection. Tools as a means of investigation of the self.

It's this deliberate confusion between humans, tools, and the world around "us" that I love about shinto - that spirits are everywhere, because perhaps we ourselves are just meat inhabited by spirits too. We never chose to be this way, so what stops us from being merely a ghost in a machine? Why only apply the software/hardware terms to things we have created?

As Wendy notes (emphasis added):

"Later, three Japanese academics... tried to explain why Japanese people like robots so much - more, it seems, than "we" do (whoever "we" are). They suggested three theories: the influence of TV and manga; the influence of the mainstream Shinto religion, which sees a spirit in everything; and the Japanese government strategy to make the country a robotics powerhouse.

...

"Japanese people don't like to draw distinctions and place clear lines"