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Japan scientists press for robot funds

Japanese researchers beseech the government to invest in a robot development plan, with the aim of creating a machine that has the artificial intelligence of a human child.

Culture
Japanese researchers are pressing the government to invest in an ambitious robot development plan, with the aim of creating a machine that has the artificial intelligence of a human child, according to reports.

The quest, which has been named the Atom Project, will span 30 years and will require almost $500 million annually from the government, according to The Japan Times.

Researchers proposing the project believe that the Atom Project--inspired by late cartoonist Osamu Tezuka's popular robot animation series "Tetsuwan Atom," also known as "Astro Boy" overseas, will help promote scientific and technological advances in Japan.

The project, scientists assert, would put the country in the forefront of a lucrative new industry, as well as benefit the economy from products spun off from robot research. But getting official support might prove difficult, because of Japan's current economic woes.

The proposed research would be spearheaded by Mitsuo Kawato, chief of the Computational Neuroscience Laboratories at the Kyoto, Japan-based Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International.

Kawato is an expert in brain science and has created a humanoid robot that has learned 24 kinds of human action over three years.

"Most of today's robots operate with a program written by humans. In order to develop a robot that can think and move like a 5-year-old, we have to first understand the mechanism of how human brains work," he said in the newspaper.

Japan's technology in robotics has reached the level where robots can copy the human walk, as seen in Asimo, the robot created by Honda Motor. However, Asimo's physical ability is still far below that of a 5-year-old human.

While the ambitious proposal might not get the scale of support that Kawato desires, Japan's large companies have earmarked robotics as an industry they will focus on, driven by country's falling birthrate and a graying population.

CNETAsia staff reported from Singapore.

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