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Robotics Technology

Japanese Find Robots Less Intimidating Than People 278

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the batteries-not-included dept.
bik1979 writes "The Christmas issue of economist has an interesting article on 'why the Japanese want their robots to act more like humans'. The article says how people in japan are accepting robots into their daily life, more so than accepting other people. From the article: 'What seems to set Japan apart from other countries is that few Japanese are all that worried about the effects that hordes of robots might have on its citizens. Nobody seems prepared to ask awkward questions about how it might turn out. If this bold social experiment produces lots of isolated people, there will of course be an outlet for their loneliness: they can confide in their robot pets and partners. Only in Japan could this be thought less risky than having a compassionate Filipina drop by for a chat.'"
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Japanese Find Robots Less Intimidating Than People

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 25, 2005 @01:32AM (#14334864)
    One of the sidequests in KOTOR involved a runaway household droid whose owner had gotten a little too... attached to it, and the droid thought it unhealthy for its owner to be so attached. Will Japan turn into an entire country like in that instance?
  • by Mr. Freeman (933986) on Sunday December 25, 2005 @01:36AM (#14334879)
    It seems every electronic gadget is "going to isolate us from every other human being on the planet".
    The japanese in particular seem to have made large strides in the field of robotics, it makes sense that they would be the first to accept them into their lives.

    As for why, I think it's two factors.
    1. They probably understand what robots are better than the general populace of America. People are less afraid of what they understand.
    2. The "anonymous internet effect" as I call it. A robot isn't a human, it doesn't have emotions, it won't get pissed off if you insult it/don't remember its birthday/whatever.
    • 'It seems every electronic gadget is "going to isolate us from every other human being on the planet".'

      And of course, these words are heard over what?

      The TV.
      The Radio.
      Online News Sites.

      All three are 'electronic gadgets' (TV's, Radios, Computers), perhaps the biggest and most widespread of them all. And their main purpose is to do what?

      Allow people to communicate.

      If it becomes: Radio, TV, Internet, Robots, Chronologically speaking, then robots are sure to be accepted into our lives. Robots are quite differen
      • For as much as we communicate these days, I think the "real fear" was of a physical isolation, not a social isolation. A physical isolation carries a very real threat, because if you never form phyisical relationships, it's tough to propogate your genetic material. And I wouldn't exactly say that phones, TV, the internet, or video games, have encouraged physical relationships. Granted, they haven't exactly lead to the death of marriage or anything like that. The human population in general has always ha
      • "We see much more of this loneliness now. It's paradoxical that where people are the most closely crowded, in the big coastal cities in the East and West, the loneliness is the greatest. Back where people were so spread out in western Oregon and Idaho and Montana and the Dakotas you'd think the loneliness would have been greater, but we didn't see it so much.

        The explanation, I suppose, is that the physical distance between people has nothing to do with loneliness. It's psychic distance, and in Montana and I
    • 1. They probably understand what robots are better than the general populace of America. People are less afraid of what they understand.

      And alternatively, Japanese people are scared of minorities and foreigners, to the extent that police will arrest and check for the papers of people just for looking foreign, or speaking in a foreign language. Literally any crime is blamed on foreigners. The real story is, why is Japan more willing to spend billions of dollars for absurd pie-in-the-sky visions of robot

      • And alternatively, Japanese people are scared of minorities and foreigners, to the extent that police will arrest and check for the papers of people just for looking foreign, or speaking in a foreign language. Literally any crime is blamed on foreigners.

        Japan is schizophenic about foreigners.

        A lot of Japanese women seek out gaijin (at least Caucasian) boyfriends, and most of the Japanese people I've met in my brief stays were very friendly. On the other hand, some merchants will pretend not to even he

      • The real story is, why is Japan more willing to spend billions of dollars for absurd pie-in-the-sky visions of robots becoming your friend, and unwilling to grant citizenship to other ethnicities, to increase the labor force and make up for a shrinking population?

        Ethnocentrism [reference.com]?

        This is a problem that it literally takes several generations to overcome. You can see progress; This isn't an area where it's easy to "catch-up" to the ideals of another group. The younger generation, while they welcome forei

    • They have awesome bukkake shows in TV, yet school kids get health problems because they are too embarrassed to shit at school!

      We should export some brit comedy, good ol' fashioned toilet humour. Then they would build some crazy mecha-monster and it would start destroying world landmarks.

      still! full of coolness.
  • by 20th Century Boy (903797) on Sunday December 25, 2005 @01:37AM (#14334882)
    Why are we so afraid of robots when we have perfectly good safeguards [robotcombat.com] against the possible setbacks?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 25, 2005 @01:37AM (#14334884)
    wait until the robots are able to give pookake facials... then the robots will really take the country by storm
  • by Ruff_ilb (769396) on Sunday December 25, 2005 @01:39AM (#14334891) Homepage
    In "I Robot" (The movie) where the robot's running off with someone's purse? (The cynical detective thinks he's stealing it - he's actually returning it to its owner)

    Well EVERY SINGLE DAY we have the equivalent of this happening, only with credit card transactions, paypal, stock exchanges, etc.

    If this analogy is off topic: What I mean to say is that the robots that we're capable of producing now are simply code in motion. Sure, very complex code, but still, they're programmed. They're not to a level of intelligence and mass production where we worry about having to welcome our new robot overlords, and I doubt they'll even need anything as complex as Asimov's 'Three Laws' for a VERY long time.

    We depend on code in our computers every day to carry out tasks, just as I'm depending on it now to get this comment up on slashdot - the robot equivalent would be a very quick messenger robot. Again, code in motion. The Japanese are wise to accept robots as just this, instead of cross-applying way too many bad science-fiction movies that couldn't be realizable today even if a malevolent force WAS trying to get robots to take over the world.

    ~Ruff_ilb

    (P.S. It's all a lie! THEY made me type it!)
    • Someone give this man some Karma.

    • And the Therac-25 [wikipedia.org] incident was just code in motion as well.

      Remember, just because you coded it, doesn't mean it will behave predictably or reliably. Software crashes all the time. Keep in mind that a robot could also be vulnerable to a virus or attack.

      I do agree though that true Artifical Intelligence is not a worry at this point, and won't be for a long long time. I personally believe that we will never get to true AI due to physical limitations on how complex we can make a processor. I think we will h
  • Of course (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Crashmarik (635988) on Sunday December 25, 2005 @01:42AM (#14334898)
    Whens the last time you had a robot screw you over ?
    • by Guppy06 (410832) on Sunday December 25, 2005 @09:04AM (#14335698)
      Well, I've got this Nigerian robot that keeps on emailing me...
    • If since the letter,
      ade a deal go sour,
      on pacts of golden seal,
      post marked.

      Ain't it funny how it gets there,
      and they say it never does,
      I'll replace you with machines,
      I can't face you.

      so I wrote a letter,
      to the messenger of my dreams,
      I see him at a party,
      endlessly.

      Ain't it funny how it gets there,
      and they say it never does,
      I'll replace you with machines
      I can't face you.

      It sounds like most of Japan's culture is rather maladapted to life as it currently is. The language is stuck in

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 25, 2005 @01:44AM (#14334900)
    More and more I find that slashdot "articles" are little more than links to badly hyped crap in other journals that are insulting to everyone's intelligence.

    The Japanese like robots more than people. Right. Please this is insulting to the Japanese and to slashdotters.

    WE NEED ARTICLE MODERATION so that we can stop this spate of crap articles.

    I'm posting anonymous because every time I point out the obvious, that slashdot has become super lame, I'm modded "troll".

    But damn it, I can remember when slashdot wasn't a pit of stupidity. WE NEED ARTICLE MODERATION!
    • I agree, but I don't really see that as likely. You know, when I look for perfection, I don't think of Slashdot. I take the whole wide Internet and sift out the parts I like. Slashdot is only Slashdot. There's a limit to how perfect they can make it.
  • see... people arent afraid of robots because you can turn them off or reprogram them. if the situation gets deperate, you can "kill" them because they arent actually people or animals. i look forward to setting fire to my robot friends. i also find it amusing that the article says "[MARIE] is inexpensive." ill buy one! :)
    • people arent afraid of robots because you can turn them off or reprogram them. if the situation gets deperate, you can "kill" them because they arent actually people or animals.

            Oh, good. I don't have to be afraid of jetliners or cars or blenders any more!
  • by servognome (738846) on Sunday December 25, 2005 @02:06AM (#14334963)
    'What seems to set Japan apart from other countries is that few Japanese are all that worried about the effects that hordes of robots might have on its citizens.

    Maybe because they are too busy dealing with Godzilla, Mothra, and all those other giant radioactive monsters.
    • Maybe because they are too busy dealing with Godzilla, Mothra, and all those other giant radioactive monsters.

      Maybe because they are too busy dealing with Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and all those other giant radioactive monstrosities.

  • by Neo-Rio-101 (700494) on Sunday December 25, 2005 @02:07AM (#14334973)
    You have to keep in mind that there are A LOT of socially inept people in Japan. The thing is that wile there is little crime or conflict in Japanese society - it all happens under the radar. When a Japanese person does not like you, they don't get angry at you and start an argument. Instead, they just shut you out and ignore you. For example:- Two coworkers in my department had a disagreement and instead of work through it like normal adults they sent hate mail to each other whilst they sat quiety in seats next to each other... pretending the other person didn't exist.

    The thing is, when the Japanese get pissed, you don't get a second chance - and they get pissed and upset SO easily it is incredibly frustrating. And they will not forgive you. They will just shut you out and pretend that you no longer exist. Problems happens when this happens on a large scale while society is basically stepping on each other - one little tiff and nobody speaks to each other ever again.

    A robot is forced to like you, be tolerant of you, do what you want, and keep smiling back. Kinda why English teaching is popular here - not so much for the English but because the Japanese want top learn social interaction skills and the Japanese are too busy ignoring each other to ever develop those.
    • "You have to keep in mind that there are A LOT of socially inept people in Japan. "

      I find that rather hard to believe. It's more likely that their social norms and rules work differently than ours. It might appear inept to us but it's quite normal for them. In fact, a lot of what you just described also applies to the Chinese, which is my heritage.

      There are cultures other than us who tend to be non-confrontational and indirect. There are advantages and disadvantages to that. Being indirect means pr

      • Sorry about the poor grammar in my post. It's late.
    • by rolfwind (528248) on Sunday December 25, 2005 @02:43AM (#14335071)
      Is you situation atypical or perhaps biased by a small sample size of those you know? I don't know, it seems to go for a stereotype for an entire people.

      Anyway, here is a blog from a American teacher in Japan, it's funny (and insightful) reading of over there:

      http://outpostnine.com/editorials/teacher.html [outpostnine.com]
    • by Susan In Oz (664607) on Sunday December 25, 2005 @03:06AM (#14335129)
      Having worked for the Japanese in a senior management position, learned a bit of the language, and made quite a study of them, this comment has some validity but is off in other ways. It is incredibly difficult and stressful for Japanese to interact with each other. Their language requires that you make a decision about power and relataive status to say anything. It is far more complicated than "polite" versus "not as polite". It is also a shame based culture, not a guilt culture. How you appear to others is more important, generally speaking, than any standard of morality. That's why Japanese kill themselves when they are in the middle of a scandal. Being held in low esteem is far far more wreching for them than for us. But as the writer pointed out, they do hold grudges and can be incredibly, unimaginably nasty and petty if you offend them. So that is why robots would be easier. They are obedient, they can be programmed to give pleasant responses, they don't care what form of address you use with them. Some people like animals better than their fellow humans. The Japanese have not been as big on pets as Americans, due to their generally cramped housing, so for them, a robot could well be "man's best friend".
      • The Japanese have 14 words for saying 'thank you' (if I recall correctly) depending on the social position of the person they are addressing. That alone shows how incredibly structured is the Japanese society...and that is a sign of a militaristic society, no matter how it is dressed up. 50 centuries of militaristic organization can not easily be forgotten, especially in one or two centuries. Robots make that transition easier.
    • Yep, there are socially inept people in Japan. Yep, they are especially frequent in technical and academic fields.

      And of course, that is true for any society. Also, if you're a non-Japanese - and especially if you're the kind of person that reads and comments on /. - the Japanese people you're most likely to run into are those working in technical and academic fields.

      I've lived here for some time now, and I find this to have no more more basis in fact here than anywhere else. After seeing supposedly always
      • I find it really amusing that /.-ers are pointing out the "socially inept people in Japan". :)

        Well, it can certainly be interpreted as inept in a Western way, but I think the ineptitude is relative. If a culture behaves in a certain way, it's part of the accepted culture, and there doesn't have to be anything strange with it. It's only strange when contrasted with a different culture.

        Sometimes, I feel that people speak of Japan after having watched a few documentaries, or a boatload of anime episodes. Not

  • Population Density (Score:3, Insightful)

    by wmajik (688431) <wmajik@yahPASCALoo.com minus language> on Sunday December 25, 2005 @02:12AM (#14334990) Homepage Journal
    I think only a trained sociologist will probably have a good idea on the link between the Japanese and their fascination (or in this case, level of comfort) with robots.

    That said though, for anyone familiar with Japan or having lived there before, those that live in the city have a very, very different way of life than in places like the United States. The pace of life is faster, the population density is higher and there is a generally an absurd amount of strangers that you pass by on a daily basis. The fast, brisk level of interaction required to perform your daily tasks with others is just an automated response after awhile. It's no surprise to me that Japan is the leader in automation, simply due to this constant barrage of hit-and-run interaction.

    I would venture that the Japanese have simply become accustom to automated systems and technology, having evolved around the idea of using non-human tools to help them throughout the day. If you asked another person in a fast paced city such as New York or LA versus a slower city like Austin or Memphis on their opinion toward robots, I would imagine you get a correlation between pace of life and comfort level with robots (or automation).

    My 0.02 hypothesis at least.
    • Japan has lead in automation because of a limited pool of workers. Thus, they have much more incentive to invest in heavy next-generation levels of automation. The opposite extreme is China, where there is a near infinite supply of very cheap labour available. Thus, no incentive at all to innovate. If you can hire people at near subsistance level wages, they are very capable machines properly engineered.

      This is more to the core of why Japan has lead innovation vs. population density. They're a very small na
  • You had me... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Weaselmancer (533834) on Sunday December 25, 2005 @02:15AM (#14335002)

    ...and I was with you 100%, right up to the "compassionate Filipina" bit. Where the hell did that come from?

    • Well, you would have had to read the article. And since this IS SlashDot...
    • Re:You had me... (Score:2, Insightful)

      by kingturkey (930819)
      When I got to that bit I too was confused. I had a thought about mail order brides but it didn't really make much sense. I then read the article and it makes perfect sense! Amazing what reading TFA does.
    • Re:You had me... (Score:5, Informative)

      by earthbound kid (859282) on Sunday December 25, 2005 @02:50AM (#14335087) Homepage
      Cost of developing a thinking robot: Billions, perhaps trillions, of yen.

      Cost of opening Japanese borders to foreigners: Zero yen. Oh yeah, and society will have to open up a little too.

      As you can see, it's inevitable that the Japanese develop robots. The cost of not doing so is too high for the Japanese populous to bear, or even contemplate. Seriously, the Japanese are nice people and all, but they really insist on dividing the world into "Japan" and "everybody else" in a way that's not healthy at all. I like Japan, but they're going to have make some changes. On their current path, they're either going to end up like Europe, with a bunch of isolated and pissed off foreigners living inside their borders or like techno-Europe, with a bunch of isolated and pissed off robots living inside their borders. Or, heaven forbid, they could follow the US/Canadian model and integrate foreigners into their society, instead of isolating them and maybe the people would think of themselves as Japanese. But they might not have black hair, so scratch that idea.
      • by Snaller (147050)
        They could build massive robots and invade the world!
      • they're either going to end up like Europe, with a bunch of isolated and pissed off foreigners living inside their borders

        A friend of mine recently returned from an extended stay in the US, I think Boston... he had a lot of stories to tell, but one that caught my attention with regard to this comment was a place called Martin Luther King boulevard (?). He said that's one place where white people don't go. There are many isolated ghettoes and racial divisions in America, so I really wouldn't start holdin

      • Arguments like this merely betray your ignorance. Obviously, if Japan is willing to invest in robots rather than opening borders to immigrants, then they have a different opinion than you on the relative costs and benefits of robotics versus immigration. I wonder why you ignore the cultural changes that will come from replacing a shrinking population of Japanese with a growing population of non-Japanese, or that the Japanese might value what would disappear.
    • ...and I was with you 100%, right up to the "compassionate Filipina" bit. Where the hell did that come from?

      As they say around here RTFA. They are starting to need people since the japanese are not having enough children, and a lot of other countries would like to come in - like people from the philipines, but the Japanese don't want strangers in - which is why they prefer to build robots. They start by mentioning a filipina nurse (or something like that) but the old people don't feel comfortable with such
  • they scurry at the sight of 100 foot tall reptiles and then their mouths stop working.

    Americans on the other hand stare at any imminent danger like inquisitive puppies, waiting for their closeup.
  • by Morgaine (4316) on Sunday December 25, 2005 @02:34AM (#14335056)
    Let's take a look at the three common scenarios:

    A. Robots remain good and helpful.

    Compare this against the current state of affairs, where humanity is segmented into fundamentalist religious factions at war with each other, rapacious and/or clueless politicians bringing in 1984, big business cartels treating the citizenry as cattle, lawyers oiling the wheels of all the "legal" malevolance, plus an underbelly of simple criminals who care not about what they do to their neighbour. Yes, robot companions will become infinitely preferable to people, on average.

    B. Robots do the Skynet or War Games thing and try to exterminate or dominate us.

    This would undoubtedly unite us again, much like an alien invasion would do, because it's in the nature of humanity to unite against an external threat --- it's been happening throughout the ages, against attacks on one's country. So, at least there would be a silver lining for humanity amid the War Against The Machines or equivalent, until it's over one way or another.

    C. The Culture scenario from Iain M. Banks' novels, ie. machine intelligence and capability becomes so incomprehensibly greater than our own that Man and all other creatures in the galaxy become their very well looked after pets.

    Banks' scenario is good whichever you look at it: either mankind is happy as a pampered pet and wishes to remain so, or else mankind absorbs the technology of AI into itself and becomes one with it in order to remain the dominant species on the planet. The latter is Ray Kurzweil's expected future, as described in The Age of Spiritual Machines.

    So, I see only good from the coming of the robot, regardless of its level of machine intelligence and the goals it develops for itself, if any.
    • by headkase (533448)
      Um, how about we keep the intelligence in humans instead? There's nothing a superintelligence can do that enough well organized humans can't. Although it would probably take longer with people, what's the hurry? Back to organization - the forest is a distict entity based on trees. You can be a human tree and let the emergent forest do its thing hopefully in a human valued way or you can delegate your decisions to a machine and risk irrelevence.
      • There's nothing a superintelligence can do that enough well organized humans can't.
        That's like saying there's nothing a human can do that enough well organized tadpoles can't. Superhuman intelligence, when it happens, won't just be faster than humans, it will be of a whole different order of intelligence, like we are over lower animals. It would be able to think of things, have ideas, that are simply too vast for human minds to grasp.
    • B. Robots do the Skynet or War Games thing and try to exterminate or dominate us.

      While reading that line, it occurred to me: how much influence have human-friendly robots in many Japanese animes had on the growning cyber-phile genre in Japan?
    • Or

      D. Technologists promise the moon, fail to deliver, and disappoint the general public.

      Think about it: we're already on the edge of falling off Moore's law. It's probably possible to make a computer a hundred times faster than it is today, but a million? Not likely using known physics. I think this will end up like the space race. Rockets kept getting more and more powerful in the 50s and 60s, so everyone assumed the process would continue indefinitely until we had moon bases and warp drive. Only, it turne
  • ...they spend less time paralyzed thinking about what could go wrong and more time thinking about how to make something better? :-)
  • I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords.
  • Given the high suicide rate in Japan I'd avoid real people personality prototypes. An army of Marvin styled robots could double the suicide rate overnight. Even overly enthusiastic robotic doors could add considerable. I still remember the first cars with voices back in the 80s. About the third time it told me the door was ajar when I was opening it I nearly took an axe to the thing.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 25, 2005 @04:23AM (#14335290)
    A lot of people seem to be confused about this. Basically as everyone knows Japan's society is the most rapidly aging in the world. So an important subject is who is going to take care of all the old people (quite literally - nurses and the like). One proposal is to import nurses from countries like the Phillipines and teach them to speak Japanese and Japanese cultural mores. However, Japan has largely rejected this proposal due to the fact that the country as a whole is extremely anti-immigration, even full-blooded Japanese "returnees" who were born in Japan but spend a few years living overseas experience rejection. So, as you can imagine the thoughts of an influx of Filippo nurses worries the Japanese a lot. I'm not sure how well robots would replace the foreign labour option. The foreign labour option is cheap and robots are extremely expensive, not to mention that the robots capable of doing the job of a human nurse don't exist yet and aren't likely to for a long time. And unfortunately for Japan the aging problem is right now, in fact the population has already started to decline this year. It's not like they have decades to develop AI and get it right...It seems more like an attempt to avoid reality more than anything else.

  • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Sunday December 25, 2005 @05:04AM (#14335345) Journal
    The author judges the japanese as being wrong. The west is obviously right in its fear of robots and love of cheap immigrans. That there have been no robot riots and several western countries have had to deal with immigrant riots is neither here nor there.

    But I think there is a far simpler reason behind the lack of immigration. Japanese companies had a pact with their workers. You work hard and we give you employment for live. While this is changing on the whole a japanese company is far more likely to stick with the expensive locals then say an american company who is always looking to reduce labor costs.

    As we are seeing now with the claimed shortage in tech workers (wich has been proven again and again not to be true) western companies are always looking for an excuse to get lower wage workers in place.

    Immigrants do not complain and do not demand high wages or sane hours. When even they became to expensive entire production facilities were located off-shore and now even the office work is being put in low wage nations.

    Because there is nobody to do the work here? No, because it allows them to scrape another percentage of the labor costs. Fuck the longterm economy, next quarters stock price is what matters.

    Japanese companies operated on a slightly different moral principle. Their workers worked themselves into an easy grave and in exchange the japanese worker was assured a job for live (strangely enough with all that hard work the japanese get older then most westeners).

    The west is currently having major problems with the results of it open immigration policy, right or wrong you can hardly blame the japanese for not wanting to have race riots in their cities. And no, not just in France. They have had them in england and in holland.

    Perhaps we should ask why the west is so afraid of robots instead.

  • by identity0 (77976) on Sunday December 25, 2005 @06:53AM (#14335487) Journal
    I'm from Japan, and I'm sometimes amazed at the attitudes of people back home in Japan. I was raised in California, among lots of different ethnicities, so it's not uncomfortable for me to be among foreigners, but to people raised in Japan, it's really different. Japan can feel like a really small town when dealing with outsiders sometimes.

    The closest thing I can imagine to Japan's racial attitudes in the US is something like a totally white community in the midwest, in the '50s. It's not that they actively hate other races, it's just that they grow up in an environment where everyone's the same race, and there are entrenched cultural expectations of what being a 'proper' citizen is. This results in a culture where there's lots of apprehention about foreigners, because they're an 'unknown element' that could disrupt social norms.

    This, combined with the techno-phillia that's been in Japan since the '50s, is what makes robots more acceptable.

    Another might be that robots can be programmed, foreigners cannot. This might be an important distinction in a society where education is seen as an important social stabilizer. The fact is, it might be easier to program robots to be 'Japanese' than naturalize foreigners, who will not be accepted as 'Japanese', anyway. There are still thousands of ethnic Koreans who were born there and aren't citizens because they have Korean names, and Japan's national identity is based heavily on race. A robot doesn't really have a racial identity aside from what it is programmed to be, I would guess.

    Anyways, what I am trying to say is that the reason Japan prefers robots to immigrants is that they can be a very cosmopolitan, modern and advanced place as far as technology and consumer culture goes, but they can also be like a rural backwater as far as outsiders go.
    • education is seen as an important social stabilizer.
      Oh, trust me, the USA has that, too. Most of the nasty things Westerners see about Japan are just open admissions of the nastiest, most covered up bits of our own culture. Like how the "rugged individualism" that built America is basically dead, replaced with office buildings, high schools and strip malls.

      Now bring on the robots!
  • has no one watched "Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040" [imdb.com]

    we're all doomed!

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