“I am an android”: Late Japanese author is robotically revived

Natsume Soseki, the android version, extends his hand at a presentation at Nishogakusha University in Tokyo on December 8. © ANN News

Exactly one hundred years after his death in 1916, Japan’s most famous Meiji-era author, Natsume Soseki, best known for his debut novel I am a Cat, was both commemorated and revived at a Tokyo University in the form of an android.

It seems not a single Japanese schoolchild is unfamiliar with the phrase “wagahai wa neko de aru” (“[royal We] are a cat”), so much has the humorous irony of the affirmation, coupled with Japan’s traditional love of cats, permeated popular culture. And yet, while Soseki’s early 20th century novels I am a Cat and Botchan remain undisputable classics of Japanese literature, today’s young people could apparently benefit from being reacquainted with the author of these highly satirical works and his larger Meiji-era œuvre.

And what better way to reach the millennial generation than through an eerily realistic-looking, talking and gesturing robot? On December 8, 2016, at Nishogakusha University in Tokyo, the android version of Natsume Soseki was revealed to the media by high-profile robotics researcher Hiroshi Ishiguro of Osaka University, who collaborated on the project.

The almost life-size robot, which cannot walk, began by bowing and apologizing for remaining seated. Its humanoid figure is based on Soseki’s appearance at age 45, just a few years before his death. The university researchers 3D scanned the novelist’s death mask, then adjusted the model to match the more popular image of his face as seen on the older ¥1,000 bill.

1,000 yen bill featuring the face of Natsume Soseki, issued from 1984 to 2004. © DR

The voice of Soseki’s grandson, manga critic Fusanosuke Natsume, who at age 66 endearingly appears to have inherited his grandfather’s facial features, was used to artificially re-create the voice of the late author.

From April 2017, Natsume Soseki’s android incarnation is expected to give lectures at the university, as well as recite his lesser-known literary works, which include short stories and poems… which leads us to another question: What would the real Soseki think of his humanoid avatar?

(Re-)introducing Natsume Soseki as an android, by ANN News (in Japanese):

More about the Natsume Soseki android project (in Japanese)