TIME Tech

These Human Robots Will Haunt Your Nightmares

Japan hopes lifelike robots will be as common as laptops

Meet Otonaroid and Kodomoroid, two eerily lifelike robots who can read fluently, recite tongue twisters, blink, move and twitch their eyebrows (natch).

Japanese android expert Hiroshi Ishiguro unveiled the female cyborgs on Tuesday at the National Museum of Merging Science and Innovation. The two will be on display at the Museum for visitors to interact with.

Ishiguro’s robotics are the latest confirmation of the uncanny valley hypothesis, which posits that humans find discomfort when robotic and animated humans approach a natural human appearance.

With Softbank’s commercialization of robots, Ishiguro—who’s previously designed his own doppelgänger robots—hopes that robots will soon become a part of everyday life in Japan.

TIME sexism

Japan Politician Sorry for Heckling Female Colleague

Akihiro Suzuki, a member of the Tokyo metropolitan assembly, bows to Ayaka Shiomura, a fellow assembly member, to apologize for his sexist jeer during a recent event, at Tokyo city hall on June 23, 2014.
Akihiro Suzuki, a member of the Tokyo metropolitan assembly, bows to Ayaka Shiomura, a fellow assembly member, to apologize for his sexist jeer during a recent event, at Tokyo city hall on June 23, 2014. Jiji Press—AFP/Getty Images

Shouted at female assembly member to "get married"

A Japanese politician apologized Monday after he shouted sexist remarks at a fellow assembly member during her speech last week about increased public support for pregnant women.

Akihiro Suzuki, a member of the ruling LDP party, admitted he taunted fellow assembly member Ayaka Shiomura, from the minority Your party, during her speech, CNN reports. He apologized for shouting out “You should get married” while Shiomura was speaking, but denies making a second comment, “Can’t you even bear a child?” A video of the incident shows Shiomura reduced to tears by the comments, but she finishes her speech anyway. She was advocating for more public support for pregnant women in the Tokyo assembly on June 18.

Shiomura accepted Suzuki’s apology, but said she knew there were others who heckled her who have not yet apologized. The apology comes after LPD party leader Shigeru Ishiba denounced the incident on a June 21 TV program and called for the perpetrators to come forward.

The incident is especially embarrassing considering that the heckles were coming from members of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s LDP party, since Abe has himself been vocal about making Japan a better place for working women. The Prime Minister wrote in the Wall Street Journal last year that he wants to boost women’s participation in the workforce to 73% by 2020, and close the wage gap (Japanese women make 30% less than men).

TIME Iraq

So How Successful Is the U.S. When It Comes to Ending Wars?

Kosovo Force (KFOR) soldiers from Greece, Germany and the U.S. stand guard at the closed Serbia-Kosovo border crossing of Jarinje
Kosovo Force soldiers from Greece, Germany and the U.S. stand guard at the closed Serbia-Kosovo border crossing of Jarinje on Sept. 29, 2011. Marko Djurica— Reuters

The U.S. has a mixed record when it comes to wrapping up conflicts, but one thing seems clear: pulling out suddenly, and totally, is never really a good idea

Ending a war is often a complicated affair.

In December 2011, President Obama told U.S. troops returning home from their final tours in Iraq that the American mission in the country was effectively accomplished.

“We’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq with a representative government that was elected by its people,” said Obama during a ceremony at Fort Bragg. He was wrong. Iraq was still fragile and haunted by simmering sectarian tensions.

The blitzkrieg offensive led by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and a smattering of Sunni militias last week across the country’s northwest has renewed discussion about the Obama Administration’s failure to negotiate a deal to leave behind a residual force in the country.

Debates over leaving American boots on the ground in foreign nations, after years of war, are often heated, especially when the conflicts were deeply unpopular. But here’s a quick rundown of how major U.S. withdrawals fared when peacekeeping outfits stayed behind in foreign theaters — vs. what happened when the military simply packed up camp and went home.

Japan

After six years of invasions, bombing campaigns, offensives and counteroffensives across Asia, the Second World War in the Pacific was brought to an end with Japan’s formal surrender on Sept. 2, 1945. The country’s military was disbanded by General Douglas MacArthur and a new “pacifist” constitution was drawn up to govern the nation.

Tokyo and Washington later signed a defense treaty that would allow U.S. forces to remain in the country and, in return, the American military would be responsible for the nation’s security. Today, 38,000 U.S. troops are still stationed in Japan at installations across the archipelago nation. How has the agreement fared? Extremely well. Japan has not engaged in any major military conflict since World War II and currently has the third largest economy in the world.

Korea

In the wake of Tokyo’s pullout from the peninsula in 1945 after the end of World War II, the U.S. established a residual presence south of the 38th parallel that was mostly made up of a small advisory force meant to help train the South Korean military.

However, according to Dr. Kalev I. Sepp, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense: “Their presence, unsupported by air power or ground combat units, did not deter the North Korean army from invading the South in 1950, and almost conquering the entire country.”

Following years of bloody civil war in Korea, the 1953 armistice brought fighting between Pyongyang and Seoul to an end. In the war’s wake, the U.S. has maintained a massive military presence in the country, which includes infantry divisions, fighter jets and nearby battle fleets. Approximately 28,500 American troops are currently stationed in South Korea.

“This powerful deterrent force held the North Korean dictatorship in check for over a half-century to today, supporting the U.S. policy of defense of democratic South Korea,” says Sepp.

Although the Korean Peninsula is still technically at war, South Korea has enjoyed decades of peaceful development that have transformed the country from a flattened war zone to a humming international hub of commerce.

Vietnam

The precipitous collapse of the Southern Vietnamese government in the face of a massive Hanoi-led offensive marked one of the most embarrassing moments in the history of U.S. foreign policy, after tens of thousands of American lives were lost and billions of dollars poured into the floundering Republic of Vietnam.

In January 1973, Hanoi and Washington inked the Paris Peace Accords and the U.S. pulled out its troops just two months later.

Although President Richard Nixon claimed the deal would “end the war and bring peace with honor,” by April 1975, the North Vietnamese overran the south, and on April 30 tanks slammed through the gates of the Presidential Palace in Saigon. The Republic of Vietnam vanished and the country was reunited under communist rule after decades of conflict and more than a century of colonial occupation.

The country was almost immediately pinned down in large-scale wars with Cambodia and China following the American pullout. Another 20 years would pass before the U.S. and Vietnam would normalize relations.

The Balkans

U.S.-led NATO offensives in Bosnia and Kosovo, in the wake of years of gruesome sectarian war in the former Yugoslavian territories, ended with negotiated deals ironed out in Dayton, Ohio, and in a U.N. Security Council Resolution. Following the agreements, massive peacekeeping forces were left behind in both countries and then gradually withdrawn as tensions cooled between the various ethnic groups and stakeholders in the region.

In Bosnia, approximately 54,000 peacekeepers had boots on the ground in 1995, but by 2011 only a few thousand remained. Similarly, 50,000 peacekeepers were deployed to Kosovo in 1999. As of last year, about 5,000 remained.

“I think the key lesson to learn from the Balkans is when you’ve got a highly mobilized ethno-sectarian identity war, like we had in the Balkans and like we had in Iraq by 2006, people don’t just get over these kinds of fears and hatreds that sort of warfare produces overnight,” Stephen Biddle, adjunct senior fellow for defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, tells TIME.

According to Biddle, residual forces in the Balkans provided a textbook example of how peacekeepers can be utilized to create breathing space for states recovering from bloody bouts of sectarian fighting and provide a way for grievances to be mediated instead of allowing them to relapse into tit-for-tat violence.

“[It] in turn tends to keep the temperature down and the violence level under wraps as the various internal parties gradually relearn to cooperate with each other,” says Biddle.

TIME Japan

Japan Finally Bans Child Pornography

After years of international pressure to tighten loose laws, many say the new legislation is a step in the right direction, despite an exception for explicit anime and manga featuring children

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Japan’s parliament passed a bill Wednesday to ban the possession of child pornography. Under the new law, people found with explicit photos or video of children can be imprisoned for up to one year and fined up to 1 million yen ($10,000).

The passage of the legislation comes after years of international pressure urging the country to tighten lax possession laws, which activists say endangered children. Despite banning the production and distribution of child pornography in 1999, Japan is the last Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development nation to make possession a punishable offense.

Japan is known as an “international hub for the production and trafficking of child pornography,” according to the 2013 U.S. Department of State’s human-rights report. In 2012, the police reported investigations involving 1,264 child victims featured in pornography — a 98% increase from the previous year.

For activists who insist that there is a direct correlation between child pornography and abuse, the law is a step in the right direction. “For too long, there was a poor understanding of children’s rights,” politician Kiyohiko Toyama told Reuters.

The new law does not include the banning of anime and manga that feature explicit scenes of children, after lawyers and publishers argued that censoring the materials would curb free speech.

Daisuke Okeda, a lawyer for the Japan Animation Creators Association, told CNN that the new law was to protect children from abuse and that banning animation “would not satisfy the goal of the law.”

Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki is optimistic that the law will help change the cultural acceptance of child pornography. “We must fight against a tendency of looking at children as sexual objects, and allowing them to be taken advantage of, sexually and commercially,” he said in parliamentary testimony, Reuters reports.

Japanese nationals in possession of child pornography have one year to discard of the material before finding themselves liable for prosecution.

TIME Companies

Here’s the Huge Amazon News Nobody Is Talking About

Amazon Japan doubles goat workforce
Two goats eat weeds at a Tokyo condominium complex, where owners opted for a quieter, more natural lawn mowing. Toshifumi Kitamura —AFP/Getty Images

Amazon Japan is reportedly doubling its goat workforce

While Amazon’s recent ventures include music streaming and an online payment system, the latest is a new batch of goat hires in Japan.

Amazon Japan’s goats—now nearly 40 of them—were first hired last summer to manicure the company’s lawns, according to Kotaku, one of Gawker Media’s blogs. Every Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., the new-and-improved crew will graze the Amazon green, chomping away at weeds, grasses and other plants.

Amazon isn’t the first company to employ goats. In 2009, Google announced that a herder would bring 200 goats to spend a week eating and fertilizing their grass. In 2013, even Capitol Hill used goats to mow its lawns.

And though goat helpers aren’t a new invention, the ones at Amazon receive a special perk—each of them has their own employee badge.

MONEY The Economy

Don’t Count the American Economy Out Just Yet

Sure, China is gaining ground. But that's what they said about Japan a generation ago. And the U.S. remains the world's economic champ in more ways than one.

Now that China has passed Japan in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), some pundits figure it’s only a matter of time before it surpasses the United States to become the world’s economic power.

It’s way too early to come to such a conclusion. Here are the standings as of 2013, according to the International Monetary Fund:

GDP Chart new new In the 1980s, many people felt it was only a matter of time before Japan topped the U.S. Japan had a homogeneous population, low crime, good elementary education, a minimal defense budget, “just in time” inventories, “continuous improvement” in business practices, and a strong tradition of excelling at exports.

But when Japan hit what turned out to be an excruciatingly long period of economic stagnation, the tune changed. All of a sudden people were talking about Japan’s “structural economic flaws,” excessive consultation, inefficient subsidies for rice farmers, and political gridlock.

What it proved was a truth that has been demonstrated over and over – that people are good at predicting anything except the future.

To my mind, the advantages the U.S. has over China are considerable: a free market system, a tradition of rewarding success, peaceful resolution mechanisms for disputes, and best of all a culture of innovation. And while our education system at the lower levels may be so-so, our higher education system is still the envy of many countries.

Total GDP counts for a lot in determining which nations will wield power on the world stage. If you want to amass armed forces, or to send an astronaut to the moon, GDP is the raw material for those achievements.

However, the total gross domestic product doesn’t tell you how rich the average person is. For that, a decent approximation is GDP per person, and the rankings would be topped by the likes of Qatar, Luxembourg, and Singapore.

And even that measure fails to capture the ultimate thing that matters, the quality of life. Close to 50 years ago, Senator Robert Kennedy spoke eloquently about the limitations of GDP.

GDP, said Kennedy, “counts air pollution, and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear out highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors, and jails for the people who break them.”

At the same time, GDP “does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play….It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials….

“It measures everything in short except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.”

TIME Japan

Check Out These Awesome Gadgets From the Tokyo Toy Show

Here are some of our favorites, ranging from the world's smallest multicopter to a bilingual robotic dog

The annual International Tokyo Toy Show opened Thursday, showcasing over 35,000 toys during the four-day exhibition. Check out some of the coolest toys on display.

TIME robotics

Meet Pepper, the Robot Who Can Read Your Emotions

A company in Japan has created a robot that can interact with humans on an emotional level

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A robot designed to read—and more importantly, respond to—users’ moods was unveiled this week by Softbank, a Japanese internet company.

Pepper, who stands 4 feet tall and weighs about 62 pounds, is equipped with facial-recognition technology and a number of cameras, audio recorders and sensors. That technology allows the robot to learn how to behave over time, instead of being programmed for specific tasks, Softbank said.

“Our aim is to develop affectionate robots that can make people smile,” said Masayoshi Son, the billionaire behind Softbank.

The humanoid, which is set to go on sale in Japan in February 2015, will cost about 198,000 yen ($1,900).

 

 

TIME China

China Fires Back at U.S. Criticism Over Asia-Pacific Instability

From left: U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel listens to Lt. Gen. Wang Guanzhong, China's deputy chief of General Staff during the start of their meeting on May 31, 2014 in Singapore.
From left: U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel listens to Lt. Gen. Wang Guanzhong, China's deputy chief of General Staff during the start of their meeting on May 31, 2014 in Singapore. Pablo Martinez Monsivais—Getty Images

The gloves came off between the U.S. and China during a defense conference in Asia over the weekend, following Beijing’s forays into disputed areas of the South China Sea early last month

Diplomatic platitudes took a backseat to tough talk in Singapore over the weekend, as Beijing slammed Washington for investing in a “containment fantasy” after the U.S. accused China of overseeing “destabilizing” maneuvers in the South China Sea.

On Saturday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel laid into China for allowing a state-owned drilling rig to drop anchor in the heart of heavily contested waters off the Vietnamese coast. He was speaking at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue organized by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“We firmly oppose any nation’s use of intimidation, coercion, or the threat of force to assert these claims,” Hagel told the conference. “We also oppose any effort — by any nation — to restrict overflight or freedom of navigation, whether from military or civilian vessels [or] from countries big or small.”

Beijing did not take kindly to the forceful criticism.

“Hagel’s speech was full of hegemony, full of words of threat and intimidation,” said Lieut. General Wang Guanzhong, deputy chief of the general staff of the People’s Liberation Army, on Sunday.

“It was a speech to abet destabilizing factors to create trouble and make provocations. It was not a constructive speech.”

China’s stated-backed Global Times on Sunday railed against the Obama Administration’s renewed diplomatic thrust into Asia, which Beijing derides as a thinly veiled effort to contain China’s rise.

“Strengthened military alliance against China does not contribute to regional stability that the United States has touted for, but rather constitutes a provocative and hostile move that stirs up regional tension,” read an editorial.

This year’s Shangri-La Dialogue came at an increasingly hostile time in the region. Just four days before the meeting commenced, Hanoi accused Chinese vessels of sinking a Vietnamese fishing boat near the controversial oil rig in the South China Sea.

The incident was the latest flash point between the countries since the drilling platform entered waters claimed by Vietnam last month.

During a keynote address on Friday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe offered to supply both the Philippines and Vietnam with patrol boats. Japan has its own bitter territorial disputes with Beijing.

“Japan will offer its utmost support for the efforts of the countries of ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] as they work to ensure the security of the seas and the skies,” said Abe, according to the BBC.

Wang later dismissed the Japanese Prime Minister’s comments as “provocative.”

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