Nissan Seminar: Are robots the solution to Japan’s care crisis?

Convenor(s): Professor Roger Goodman and Dr Giulio Pugliese

Speaker(s): Dr James Wright (Turing Institute, London)

Are robots the solution to Japan’s care crisis?


Like many other post-industrial economies, Japan is in the grip of a deepening care crisis. The care needs of older people are growing, and there do not seem to be enough caregivers available to address them. Robots have been repeatedly presented as a high-tech solution to this problem by elements of the Japanese government and industry, and large sums of money have been invested in their development and implementation over the past decade.

This talk draws on ethnographic fieldwork undertaken in Japan since 2016 at a national research institute working on the world’s largest care robot project, and at an elder care home introducing three different care robots. It examines how such robots are being developed and used, how they serve to reconfigure aspects of care work, and how they might transform the industry in the future.When we cut through the stereotypes, myths, and techno-utopian hype about Japan’s relationship with robots and consider what ideological concerns they embody as well as their actual functionalities, the proposed robotic solution to the care crisis raises fundamental questions about the relationship between productive and reproductive labour under neoliberal capitalism, while revealing alternative possibilities for caring futures.

James Wright is a Research Associate at the Alan Turing Institute, the UK’s national institute for data science and AI. He received his PhD in anthropology and science and technology studies (STS) from the University of Hong Kong in 2018. His research interests include the development and use of robots, artificial intelligence, and other digital technologies for elder care, and his current project, PATH-AI, focuses on AI ethics and governance in the UK and Japan. His first book, entitled Robots Won’t Save Japan: An Ethnography of Eldercare Automation, will be published in early 2023 by Cornell University Press.