Are Robots Dying?

A travel story from Japan.

Erik P.M. Vermeulen, PhD
4 min readMay 19

--

Photo courtesy of author

The last time I visited Japan was twelve hundred and sixty-three days ago. Exactly. I know because I counted.

Every year, I used to travel four to five times to Fukuoka, the largest city on the island of Kyushu, to teach business disruption, technology, and law courses. My wife and I called Japan our second home.

Excited and curious after so long away, we embarked on the plane for a lengthy journey to our destination. A stop-over and three flights later, we arrived. It’s remarkable that you immediately pick up old habits after several years away. We recharged our contactless public transportation cards that were given to us more than ten years ago and took the train to our favorite accommodation — an apartment building complex that also offers short-stay housing.

I quickly dropped the bags and headed to the 24/7 convenience store to get sodas, water, and something to eat. It was already late, and we were starving.

Everything was still in the same place, and five minutes later, I was at the check-out counter. A person came running over to help me. He looked at me — followed by a flash of recognition — and he tilted his head slightly, and said,

“Welcome back. How have you been?”

This surprised me. I was wearing glasses — I got older — and a big face mask, as is customary in Japan in spite of the lifting of legal restrictions. It is even difficult for me to recognize myself behind this thing.

How could he possibly recognize me after all these years? I am certainly not the only customer that visits the store. He even remembered what I used to buy and gave me some recommendations.

I left the store with a warm feeling. It’s incredible what the human touch can do. I went back to the apartment to tell the story to my wife.

The next day, we had similar experiences in other stores and restaurants in Fukuoka. Indeed, we were frequent visitors, but we usually only stayed for a few days. And it was more than three years ago.

So, our first day back in Japan was definitely not what we expected. And there was more to come.

Hello Humans, Goodbye Humanoids

--

--

Erik P.M. Vermeulen, PhD

Prof (Law) | Sci-fi | Sociological storytelling