Robotics in Germany and Japan

Philosophical and Technical Perspectives

by Michael Funk (Volume editor) Bernhard Irrgang (Volume editor)
©2014 Edited Collection 184 Pages
Open Access


Germany and Japan are two of the worldwide leading countries in robotics research. Robotics as a key technology introduces technical as well as philosophical and cultural challenges. How can we use robots that have a human-like appearance in everyday life? Are there limits to technology? What are the cultural similarities and differences between Germany and Japan? These are some of the questions which are discussed in the book. Five chapters comprehend an intercultural and interdisciplinary framework including current research fields like Roboethics, Hermeneutics of Technologies, Technology Assessment, Robotics in Japanese Popular Culture and Music Robots. Contributions on cultural interrelations, technical visions and essays round out the content of this book.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Titel
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Preface
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • From Fiction to Science: A German-Japanese Era-Project
  • Introduction
  • Robots as a Philosophical Problem
  • Robots: The Vision
  • The Anthropological Dimension
  • The Economic Dimension
  • Human Minds and Machines
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robots
  • Distributed Artificial Intelligence (DAI) or Robots?
  • The Concept of Networks
  • Beyond Software
  • Production of Software by Machines?
  • Assembly Line Robots
  • Beyond Swarm-Intelligence
  • Cultural Differences
  • Identity of Technology – Differences in Culture
  • Nature, Technology and Culture
  • Stereotypes: European Individuality and Asian Collectivity
  • Concluding Remarks
  • References
  • Philosophical Frameworks
  • Robotics as a Future Vision for Hypermodern Technologies
  • Technical Artefacts and Technical Practice: The Denotation of the Human-Machine-Interface for Robotics
  • The Different Cultural Robot-Traditions in Europe and Japan
  • The Robot as Sensitive Partner
  • Conclusion: The Search for Appropriate Machines to Cooperate with Human Beings
  • References
  • Roboethics and the Synthetic Approach – A Perspective on Roboethics from Japanese Robotics Research
  • Introduction
  • The Synthetic Approach and Ethical Issues in Robotics
  • Karakuri and Biomechanisms
  • Biomechanisms and the Uncanny Valley
  • Artificial Intelligence and Cybernetics
  • Uncanny Valley and Mirror of Humanity
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Acknowledgements
  • Robotic Appearances and Forms of Life. A Phenomenological-Hermeneutical Approach to the Relation between Robotics and Culture
  • Introduction
  • From Robots to Histories, Cultures and Gardens
  • From Facts and Explanations to Interpretations and Constructions of Meaning
  • From Reality to Appearance and Forms of Life
  • Summary and Conclusion for Responsibility
  • References
  • Humanoid Robots and Human Knowing – Perspectivity and Hermeneutics in Terms of Material Culture
  • Introduction
  • Hermeneutics, Pragmatic Phenomenology and Implicit Knowing
  • Perspectivity and Hermeneutics of Action
  • The 2PP and Intersubjectivity
  • Material Culture and Embodied (Leibliche) Technics
  • Robotics in Germany and Japan
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Technology Assessment
  • Who is taking over? Technology Assessment of Autonomous (Service) Robots
  • Introduction
  • Multisdisciplinary Questions on TA of Service Robots
  • Technological Perspective
  • Economic Perspective
  • Legal Perspective
  • Ethical Perspective
  • Psychological Perspective
  • Why Humanoid Robots?
  • The Humanoid Shape as a Means to an End
  • Creating Artificial Human Beings
  • Learning from Human Beings and for the Understanding of Human Beings
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • Popular Culture and Music Robots
  • Robots in Japanese Popular Culture
  • Introduction: Robotics and Popular Culture
  • Discourses on Robots (Robots and Japanese Traditional Culture)
  • Science and Technology, and Japanese Identity
  • Robots in Popular Culture
  • Robots, Children, and Subjectivity
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Acknowledgements
  • Understanding the Feasibility and Applicability of the Musician-Humanoid Interaction Research: A Study of the Impression of the Musical Interaction
  • Introduction
  • Wind Playing Instrument Humanoid Robots
  • Humanoid-Musician Interaction with the WF-4RIV
  • What kind of impressions musicians have about interacting with the WF-4RIV?
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • Acknowledgment
  • Mozart to Robot – Cultural Challenges of Musical Instruments
  • The Composer’s View on Mechanical Instruments as seen in the Music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Conlon Nancarrow
  • Musical Robots as Cultural Challenge for Musicians, Composers and Pedagogues
  • Beethoven and the Limited Claviature
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Essays
  • Android Robots between Service and the Apocalypse of the Human Being
  • Introduction: Android Robots in Ethical and Social Discussion
  • Android Robots in History: Fascination and Fear
  • Man – Machine
  • The Apocalypse
  • References
  • Joseph Weizenbaum, Responsibility and Humanoid Robots
  • References
  • Acknowledgement
  • Social Stereotypes as a Guarantee for Proper Human-Robot Interaction? Remarks to an Anthropomorphic Robot Design
  • References
  • Authors and Contact
  • Series Index

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From Fiction to Science: A German-Japanese Era-Project

Walther Ch. Zimmerli


What I am planning to do is to discuss in the first step robots as a philosophical problem. In the second step I would like to draw our attention to a previous version of that question, which was very popular when we were still dealing with the philosophical standard problems of Artificial Intelligence: the question of human minds and machines. Afterwards I would like to have a look at the transformation of the Artificial-Intelligence-discussion into the robotics-discussion and even further on beyond the notion of software, which will be decisive for my ideas. And by doing this I would finally like to focus on the question regarding cultural differences, more specifically: on the cultural differences between Asian (especially Japanese) and the European (especially the German) way of talking as well as thinking about and constructing of robots or of robotics.1

Before we do that, however, we have to ask ourselves: What are the problems with robotics or robots? One of the problems can even be seen reading the wordplay on the signs in the hall pointing to our “robotic conference.” If it would be a conference on robots mainly or on robotics, it would read “robotics conference.” But it says “robotic conference,” which could result in the obviously somewhat misleading conclusion that we all here are robots, which is however, philosophically speaking, not so farfetched. Because as we all know and as I will be elaborating in what follows: within the European Philosophy the idea of artificial human beings has been inherent in our humanistic tradition since its very beginning. Even before mankind actually developed machines in the strict sense of the word, the idea of human beings as a certain kind of machines was already discussed. And that will be just one of the aspects, which we will be dealing with.

As another preliminary remark I would like to focus on the problem, whether the question concerning robots is pointing to one of the decisive characteristics of our time. To put it differently: whether it is true or not that robots will become or have already become one of the main features in the development of our society? This question includes two other questions: the question concerning robots, these little individual entities, beings, gadgets and the context in which ← 11 | 12 → they interact with human beings on the one hand and robotics in the perspective of an academic discipline on the other.

So the question I will begin with reads: “Is it true that robots will become or have already become one of the main features in the development of our society?” And everyone who is philosophically trained knows, of course, that here we are running into some kind of an immanently contradiction. It is a contradiction between true and will. As is well known this is an Aristotelian problem. How do we decide on the truth value of a proposition in the future tense? Since Aristotle we know that this is impossible. We do not have any way of deciding, whether a proposition in the future tense is true or not, unless it is changing from a proposition about the future into a descriptive proposition about the presence (cf. Aristotle, Perihermeneias, 18b ff.). So what we are actually asking when we ask: “Is it true that robots will become one of the main features in the development of our society?” is: “Is it a valid hypothesis that robots and robotics will become or rather have already become a decisive main feature of our present?” And keeping in mind that this is the main question I would like to proceed now to the first step.

Robots as a Philosophical Problem

Robots: The Vision

As is well known the problem with robots is already a problem in Ancient Greek Philosophy. The “locus classicus” is to be found in Aristotle´s “Politics” and it reads, in the hypothetical way of predictions, as follows:

“For if every instrument could accomplish its own work or obeying or anticipating the will of others, like the statues of Daedalus, or the tripods of Hephaestus, which, says the poet, ‘of their own accord entered the assembly of the Gods;’ if, in like manner, the shuttle would weave and the plectrum touch the lyre without a hand to guide them, chief workmen would not want servants, nor masters slaves.” (Aristotle, Politics, Book One, Part IV, 53b)

That is a gorgeous vision indeed, as it has been written by someone who did not even know mechanical instruments, not to mention automats. A person who just from the very imagination of his mastermind envisioned the possibility that if these kind of automatic instruments would already be in place then we would have reached, as Marx and Engels has put it, “a society without classes” (cf. Marx & Engels 1943): no servants, no masters. Now if we keep in mind that Aristotle was envisioning a future like this then we can easily see that he is not talking about robots, because the very notion of “robot” is Russian, and Aristotle of course, did not know Russian. Therefore he did not talk about robots, but by definition he did so nonetheless by talking about mechanical instruments displaying intelligent behavior and that is the definition of robots I will be starting from. ← 12 | 13 →

Later on we will learn that we have to distinguish between robots and meta-robots. By meta-robots we understand systems consisting of mechanical instruments displaying intelligent behavior beyond the intelligent behavior of the individual mechanical instrument. As always Aristotle was the first to offer some kind of definition. As indicated above, in the early modern times European Philosophy focused on the problem, whether we can distinguish between observing intelligent behavior or not. We are, however, capable of distinguishing a human being displaying intelligent behavior from a machine displaying intelligent behavior. So the question is: Are we human beings or just machines displaying intelligent behavior?

The idea of the “automaton spiritual” – formulated by the very same notion used by Descartes, Spinonza and Leibniz (cf. Descartes 1662/1984; Spinoza 1661/2003; Leibnitz 1854, 61 et passim; see also Lohen 1966) – implies that we cannot really tell, whether we observe the intelligent behavior of a machine or intelligent behavior of human beings, if we just observe intelligent behavior. And of course, in the period of Enlightenment the idea of “L´Homme Machine” (cf. La Mettrie 1996), of man as a machine was quite common at least among the Materialistic Philosophy. And from then on, this notion of the distinguishability or non-distinguishability of human beings displaying intelligent behavior and machines displaying intelligent behavior has become one of the key questions within what later has been called the “Philosophy of Artificial Intelligence.”2 But before we talk about that let us return to Aristotle who said as already mentioned, “chief workmen would not want servants, nor masters slaves” (Aristotle, Politics, loc. cit.). Robotics, robots or machines displaying intelligent behavior have something to do with what we call “labor.”

The Anthropological Dimension

Accordingly, the idea of robots is in some way from the very beginning connected to the idea of labor. If we now look at the anthropological dimension, it is not farfetched to draw the following conclusions:

 First: If human beings are defined by labor, labor could be understood as the self-objectivation of the internal human nature by changing the external nature (you could also put it more briefly: if human beings are defined by technology, that is by changing external nature while self-objectifying the human internal nature, such like ideas or concepts)

 Second: If human labor is being partly performed by robots, then a robotic world or a completely robotized world would be a world deprived of human nature. This would be the anthropological problem inherent in robots` nature, ← 13 | 14 → if robots, machines or mechanical devices would indeed display behavior and by doing so change the external human nature or technologically altering external nature.

The Economic Dimension


ISBN (Hardcover)
Open Access
Publication date
2014 (February)
Humanoide Roboter Technikphilosophie Technikfolgenabschätzung Serviceroboter Technologietransfer Kulturelle Einbettung
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 184 pp., 3 b/w fig.

Biographical notes

Michael Funk (Volume editor) Bernhard Irrgang (Volume editor)

Michael Funk and Bernhard Irrgang both work at the Institute for the Philosophy of Technology at TU Dresden (Germany). Funk is Research Assistant and Irrgang holds the chair of the institute. Their current research includes intercultural and transdisciplinary philosophy of technologies and sciences, applied ethics, robotics and life sciences.


Title: Robotics in Germany and Japan