Event Report: Workshop "Body and Technology: Do Androids Dream of Body and Aging?"

published: 2015-07-06

On January 17, 2015, a workshop under the theme “Body and Technology: Do Androids Dream of Body and Aging?” organized by Research Center for Ars Vivendi, Ritsumeikan University was held at the Suzaku Campus, Ritsumeikan University.

Firstly, Shigenori Mochizuki, Associate Professor of the Graduate School of Image Arts at Ritsumeikan University, stated the objectives of the workshop – to enrich our understanding of science and technology involving survival through thinking of aging and the body in the context of various technologies not directly related to life and death.

After that, Nanako Nakajima, fellow of the International Research Center “Interweaving Performance Cultures” at Free University of Berlin, made a presentation entitled “Aging Cyborg – Robot in Dance: Galapagosization of Japanese Robotics”. Nakajima pointed out that to understand the narratives of aging/body we need to understand the difference in the attitudes towards them in Japan and the European countries. In Europe, for a long time it had been a taboo to speak of aging dancers, but this attitude has changed and now we see numerous endeavors in this area. In Japan, on the other hand, dancing is perceived as an art, a way, and as such it is thought to be as good as the character of the dancer, thus the older the dancer, the more character and quality the dance acquires. In both instances, the character of the dancer is considered important, and the focal issue is what the body – with its aging and death – can create. And Nakajima elaborated on the issue of dancing robots, which, contrastingly, as they are programmed machines, can neither age nor die.

The next presenter, Prof. Tsutomu Fujinami, Research Center for Innovative Lifestyle Design at Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, made a presentation entitled ” Body with Dream or Dreaming of Body: Reductive Access toward the World of Aging People with Dementia “. Prof. Fujinami spoke about his research aiming to elucidate using science and technology the sense of presence, for example, through research aiming to create connections with elderly with dementia using “Telenoid”, a remotely operated android, or measurements and analysis of acceleration of body's center of gravity. Prof. Fujinami, using science and technology, framed a hypothesis that even those in a coma and those permanently bedridden can be engaged in some activities which are unseen by the non-disabled persons. He also elaborated on the difficulties of interpreting what is happening in the world (heart) of the elderly with dementia, as it cannot be determined by observation.

During the panel discussion based on the two presentations and opened to the audience, a point was raised that if we stop demanding strength and efficiency from science and technology, assume for example “a weak and fragile robot with limited functions” instead, and try and see how people react to it, this can possibly give us new insights into interaction between things and humans, humans and the others, as well as into relationships in nursing care.

(Report by Shigenori Mochizuki, Associate Professor, Graduate School of Image Arts / College of Image Arts & Sciences, Ritsumeikan University)