Japan: Robot Nation

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As its population ages and shrinks, the country is quickly automating its workforce.

No Longer a Dream reads the slogan in Japanese tech firm Robot Taxi’s demo video, showing awestruck families in self-driving cars. Indeed, driverless cabs are set to hit the road in 2020, ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.

Japan is generally more open to integrating robots into society than Western countries are. It’s already a leader in factory robotics. Case in point: Robots will harvest 50,000 heads of lettuce per day when Spread, the world’s first fully automated farm, opens outside Kyoto in 2017. Machines are already replacing hotel workers, waiters at sushi restaurants, airport staff, and—in one surprising instance—a creative director at ad agency McCann Erickson. Mobile carrier SoftBank and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group both employ robots to greet customers at hundreds of branches.

“It’s not just saving money,” says Rochelle Kopp, founder of Japan Intercultural Consulting, whose clients include Toyota. “Faced with a shrinking, aging population—and a reluctance to allow immigrants—Japan is short on labor.”