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Accepted Paper:

Remotely controlled avatar robots for work: new opportunities or technological fixes?  
Celia Spoden (German Institute for Japanese Studies (DIJ) Tokyo)

Long abstract:

In the DAWN Avatar Robot Café in Tokyo, people with difficulties leaving their homes – the majority with disabilities – remotely control an avatar robot called OriHime that functions as their alter ego and with which they serve the guests. There are about 70 OriHime pilots scattered all over Japan. Some pilots show a picture on a screen next to the robot stating medical or psychological conditions; others prefer not to show themselves and list their favorite foods or hobbies.

Avatar robots offer the opportunity to free individuals of sociocultural markers such as appearance, ethnicity, age, or gender and to (re)construct and play with their identities. In my presentation, I explore what it means when avatar robots become a second body in the physical world and mediate social interaction. Drawing on fieldwork in the café and interviews with the avatar pilots, I explore their perception of social participation, work, and disability. I show how the avatar opens up new opportunities for social participation, leads to a feeling of independence and belonging, helps to regain or adopt a positive attitude towards the future, and challenges common understandings of “disability.” Moreover, I contextualize these avatar technologies within the Japanese government’s science and technology research and development strategy – such as the concept of a super smart society (society 5.0) and the “Moonshot Research and Development Program” – and argue that these technologies also risk being technological fixes to social problems (Robertson 2007, Šabanović 2014), which remain untouched by welfare policies.

Traditional Open Panel P112
Transformed social differentiation through digital transformation
  Session 1