Foreign Policy Blogs

Obama meets ASIMO, stares into uncanny valley (UPDATED)


Me? Creepy? Nah. Credit: AZAdam

On Thursday, President Barack Obama’s trip to Asia made a surprise stop at the “uncanny valley” in Japan.

Obama, an avid basketball player, picked up a new sport when he played soccer with Honda’s humanoid ASIMO at Tokyo’s Miraikan science museum. ASIMO, a four-foot, three inches tall robot who weighs in at roughly 119 pounds had “pretty impressive” soccer skills, according to the president.

“Wow, he’s moving,” noted Obama as ASIMO ran across the room of the museum.

ASIMO is nowhere near passing a Turing test yet, but Obama did find it (him? her?) a bit too creepily lifelike. “I have to say the robots were a little scary,” he said following his meeting with the robot. Given that one of ASIMO’s most impressive abilities include its ability to walk as we do — it has a smooth gait, can turn without stopping, and can deftly react to obstructions — the president’s reaction isn’t all that surprising.

But even though a creeped-out Obama is unlikely to surround himself with robotic friends any time soon, he did praise the technological innovations of both Japan and the U.S., advocating for deeper collaboration between the two countries in the STEM fields. It’s likely a welcome relief from navigating territorial disputes in the region, even though Obama has clearly backed Japan in a dispute with China over territorial claims in the East China Sea.

So, for a more light-hearted perspective on Obama’s Asia trip, here’s footage of his time with ASIMO. Hopefully his bow won’t cause too much commotion.

Update: Apparently nameless critics have called Obama’s non-existent “bow” to a Chinese robot out for making us look weak. So far no comments on his bow to a Japanese robot, however.



Hannah Gais

Hannah is assistant editor at the Foreign Policy Association, a nonresident fellow at Young Professionals in Foreign Policy and the managing editor of Her work has appeared in a number of national and international publications, including Al Jazeera America, U.S. News and World Report, First Things, The Moscow Times, The Diplomat, Truthout, Business Insider and Foreign Policy in Focus.

Gais is a graduate of Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. and the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, where she focused on Eastern Christian Theology and European Studies. You can follow her on Twitter @hannahgais