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Robo-Kono: Researchers unveil robotic avatar of Japan's digital minister

Digital Reform Minister Taro Kono, right, poses with his robot "avatar" in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Oct. 21, 2022. (Mainichi/Atsuo Yamaguchi)

TOKYO -- Some politicians get criticized for being robotic, but this is taking things to extremes.

    A group of robotics researchers unveiled a mechanical "avatar" of Minister for Digital Reform Taro Kono to the press on Oct. 21, apparently the first example in the world of a robot doppelganger of a serving government minister.

    The research group, including Osaka University professor Hiroshi Ishiguro, is set to proceed with remote control demonstration tests with the robo-Kono. The minister himself took a turn at controlling his mechanical alter ego at the press event, and appeared pleased with the results.

    "I can send my avatar to various places and talk without having to go there myself," he mused. Before seeing the machine, Kono speculated that "If it looks and seems human, I'll feel closer to it." When he actually came face-to-face with it, he quipped, "With the Diet's permission, I'd gladly have it sit in for me at the Budget Committee."

    The Kono avatar is part of a research and development project led by Ishiguro and others, and directed by the Cabinet Office. The testing period began in 2020 and is set to run until 2025. The Kono robot has apparently been under development since 2020, when the flesh-and-blood version was Japan's minister for regulatory reform.

    Ishiguro said he envisions using the avatar for activities such as promoting the My Number government ID system.

    (Japanese original by Atsuo Yamaguchi, Tokyo Business News Department)

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