APEC’s robots stealing the show

November 12, 2010


A guide at the “Japanese Experience” exhibition talks to Miim, the Karaoke pal robot, on the sidelines of the APEC meetings in Yokohama, Japan on Nov. 10. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

    Miim is one of the more popular delegates at the APEC meetings in Yokohama Japan. She sings. She dances. She tosses her shoulder length hair. She may not be able to spout an alphabet soup of APEC acronyms like the other Asia-Pacific delegates. But she’s still pretty lively. For a robot.

    This week’s meetings of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum have been earnest and most comprehensive . Foreign and trade ministers issued a 20-page statement about all the things they talked about — a giant free trade zone, protectionism, the Doha round, easing restrictions on businesses, simplifying customs procedures, promoting green industries, cooperating on health and security, you name it. They also have been, and pardon my French here, excruciatingly dull. So far, the meetings and their stupefying statements have been a testimonial to Japan’s skill at stating the ambiguous. Call it the opaque meetings. Journalists from around the Pacific rim have been desperately trying to find news as the 21 APEC leaders gather for their annual pow-wow this weekend.

     The annual “silly shirts”  photo shoot, in which leaders don native attire for the class picture of their summit is usually good news fodder, but is going to be a  big let-down this year. The leaders are merely being asked to show up wearing “smart casual” for the photo shoot on Saturday night, before they head inside for a Kabuki show.

   Which brings us back to Miim, the karaoke robot. She, er it, is one of 130 exhibits on display at  “Japan Experience”, a government-sponsored exhibition in  the Pacific Yokohama convention center where the APEC meetings are taking place. The exhibit also features “personal mobility vehicles”,  a cyborg suit named HAL that enables the wearer to lift really heavy stuff and perform heroically in disaster relief, a talking delivery robot, cute robotic seal pets for use in pediatric therapy, and much other cool stuff . 

    “Welcome to APEC Japan 2010,” the anatomically correct Miim says. “This exhibition shows Japan’s strengths and attractions. Please see, feel and touch advanced technology and initiatives of Japan.”JAPAN

 The sun sets on Nov. 11 over Yokohama, Japan, the host for this week’s APEC meetings. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

    “Japan Experience” guide Taeko Hamamoto says the exhibition is meant to illustrate some of the key themes at this week’s APEC meetings. “It shows the APEC growth strategy, including an emphasis on human security, innovations like green technology, and transportation. It also shows Japan’s amazing cutting edge technology in these areas.”  

    As befits this theme, the leaders will gather for their talks around a “digital pond” in which virtual koi fish swim, and virtual leaves fall around a virtual stand of bamboo. It is meant to make the leaders feel like they are in a retreat in the autumn woods, a press handout says.  In the anteroom of this retreat, the leaders will view a showcase of  traditional items as well as stuff representing modern, high-tech Japan. Borrowing a slogan used for Brtain’s promotions, it’ss being called “Cool Japan”.

Perhaps the atmosphere will calm the heated debate about currencies and global imbalances at this week’s Group of 20 meetings in Seoul this week. So far in Tokyo it’s been all cybernetics and no pyrotechnics.

    Maybe the next time Japan hosts an APEC summit two decades from now, Japan’s leaders will be confident enough to  stage a class photo of leaders resplendent  in cyborg suits. And a future edition of Miim can act as karaoke translator at the press conferences. That certainly would liven things up.

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