A Glimpse of a Future
I have not been to Japan in over a decade. However, the times I spent there were fascinating. In the 1990's, I saw DoCoMo cell phones with video call and streaming media. In 2001, I saw a robot that could walk. Of course, in the USA they brought us a robot dog and countless manufacturing robots, including those that can pick and place tiny electronic components on a printed circuit board at blinding speed, flawlessly paint an automobile, or build other robots..
I was also impressed by their culture -- composed and reserved yet ambitious and productive. I found it easy to understand how they went from a bombed out nation to the world's second largest economy in forty short years.
But they are shrinking. Their population has been the same since the turn of the Millennium and by some estimates, it will drop by one-fourth by 2050. Today, over a fourth of their population is over 65, which is twice as many as under 14.
To deal with this geriatric boom, they have turned to automation. Today, there are countless products for seniors to be self-sufficient - from automated toilets that can medically assess human waste to beds that convert into wheelchairs and robotic assistants that can do household chores.
These inventions have also spurred development of robots that can better interact with everyone. You can imagine where this might go, and it highlights a crisis of another sort in Japan -- セックスしない症候群 . In English this means celibacy syndrome. Young women, who are faced with the choice of a career or a life as a wife/mother are choosing the former. Not only are they foregoing marriage, they have also given up on sex. This is also true for many young men, though only about half as many as women.
It is amazing to me that a culture that does not preach abstinence or celibacy as most of the Judaeo/Christian/Muslim world can be so much more effective at reducing sexual activity. They do have their morals, of course, and revere family, fidelity, and honor (perhaps more than most). However, they seem more pragmatic about it. The results speak for themselves.
Combine this trend of abstinence with their push toward devices such as Pepper, and you can see a future where people develop closer and more lasting relationships with machines than with each other. These machines will be "made for you," a term that once referred to the perfect mate.
While you might believe this to be endemic to Japan, what are you doing at this moment? In the USA, people spend more waking hours with machines - cars, TVs, and computers/tablets/smartphones than interacting face to face. How far are we from finding the perfect companion at Best Buy or Amazon?