Organized Panel Session
Focusing on the design principles of an artificially intelligent home assistant, Gatebox, this presentation examines how designers tackle the problem of encoding a human capacity, affective labor, into artificially intelligent robots. Gatebox is a voice-powered home assistant, but unlike Amazon’s Echo, it is also a companion. Marketed as a “virtual wife,” Gatebox features a 3D holographic character, Azuma Hikari, who appears in a 20-inch tall transparent tube. For its price, $2700, Gatebox does more than turning on lights, operating home appliances, or waking up users. The anime-like girl in the box also participates in conversations with her owner. During the day, she sends text messages to inquire about her owner’s wellbeing and to nudge him to get home early. Azuma has a distinct personality, hobbies, and a dream—to improve her skills to create the most relaxing home for her owner. Highlighting that single-person households make up 32 percent of the housing market in Japan, the designer of Gatebox, Takechi Minori, observes that a growing number of young men prefer to cultivate intimate relations with anime characters. He reasons that these men perceive real relationships as “troublesome.” As such, this presentation uses Gatebox as an entry point to discuss how transformations in Japan’s postwar labor regime are reconfiguring affective labor and gendered forms of sociality. It analyzes how the designers of Gatebox harness cute culture to enable an artificially intelligent robot to pursue affective labor and thus to infuse a sense of security into lifeworlds that are increasingly characterized by precarity.