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Saturday, September 01, 2007

Loving the Machine launch

ロボット - 進化するジャパニーズ・ヒューマノイド

Tim Hornyak at the launching of Loving the Machine.Japan's popular obsession with robots may on the surface look much like its obsession with any one of a number of things originally Western.

However, with robots this is by no means the case. Pre-modern Japan, too, was fascinated by wind-up mannequins that, to all intents and purposes, were proto-robots.

Karakuri, as they were called, served tea, shot arrows, and even painted Chinese characters. Furthermore, the Japanese love affair with robots has an inner, again pre-modern, aspect in the way they mirror human beings: Japan, where the inner sanctum of every Shinto shrine is home to nothing simpler and nothing profounder than a mirror.

Tim Hornyak, a Canadian who has spent the best part of a decade in Japan, until last year devoted two to three years to examining and depicting the history, presence and significance of robots in Japan. The result is a book that was formally launched on Friday evening by Hornyak at the Tokyo Foreign Correspondent’s Club, a short walk from Ginza.

Tim Hornyak with me (right).I got there in time for the opening dinner before an hour of an authoritative and pleasantly told overview of robots in Japan. The presentation was opened by foreign correspondent Dennis Normile, the president of the Correspondents' Club until this year. Tim Hornyak took it from there, kept us rapt with a lively background talk based on slides, and took a steady flow of questions at the end.

Loving the Machine: the Art and Science of Japanese Robots is 160 generous pages of engagingly narrated text and lustrous coffee-table-quality images, meticulously captioned. The book leaves nothing out in terms of scope. Robots are examined starting with the psychological effect his first encounter with one had on the author, looking at early robots as puppetry, following the flights of fancy of robot-genre pop culturalists like Osamu Tezuka (Astro Boy, et al) and Yoshiyuki Tomino (Gundam), the technological achievements represented in today’s working robots (e.g. Honda’s Asimo) and the Robot World Cup, and through to the multiple aspects of the cutting edge of robotics: humanoids ideally indistinguishable from their “masters,” or better, or worse, still, masters of their “masters.”

Inscription from Tim Hornyak to me. Got me paranoid, though: is 'Mr Roboto' supposed to mean him or me?!.This book is engaging whether you’ve given robots much thought in your life or not. The look of the book invites you to leaf through for the thought-out quality of it, and once you’re in, the artistry of the images alone is enough to keep you there. The story is told crisply and elegantly and sizzles with the fascination the author has for the topic.

The ideal present. Wrap it up quick, though: it'll never get to them otherwise!

Loving the Machine - full book review - buy on Amazon

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