The art of building artificial humans

At first they appear to be twins. The two Japanese men are clad identically in black, wear the same black rectangular glasses, the same stern expression and sport the same stylish mop of shiny jet black hair. Look again and you see one of them is doll-like, a robot.

Hiroshi Ishiguro, the director of the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory (IRL) at Osaka University, is well-known for posing with his android twin. It’s not just a weird publicity stunt; this might be the answer to Japan’s labour crisis. With its greying population – close to 28% of its 127 million people are aged over 65 – below-replacement birth rate and reluctance to ramp up immigration, Japan needs to make its own workers.

It already has plenty of industrial robots. But who will tend to the elderly in overflowing nursing homes and, perhaps just as important, who will make them feel cared for?

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