The US$2,700 answer to Amazon’s Echo could make Japan’s sex crisis even worse
Gatebox’s AI assistant is an anime character in a glass tube
By Ben Gilbert
Japan has a sex problem. The country’s birthrate is in the negative, where deaths are outpacing births.
Simply put, Japan’s population is decreasing.
But let’s be clear: Population change is a complicated subject affected by many factors.
Western media often correlates the decline in Japan’s population size with recent studies of Japanese sexual habits and marriage. A 2016 study by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research in Japan, for instance, found that “almost 70 per cent of unmarried men and 60 per cent of unmarried women are not in a relationship.”
But just because people aren’t in relationships doesn’t mean they don’t want companionship, of course. And that’s where something like Gatebox comes in.
Yes, that’s an artificially intelligent character who lives in a glass tube in your home.
Her name is Azuma Hikari, and she’s the star of Gatebox — a US$2,700 Amazon Echo-esque device that acts as a home assistant and companion.
Here’s what we know:
A Japanese company named Vinclu created the Gatebox.
It’s about the size of an eight-inch by 11-inch piece of paper, according to Vinclu. And there’s a good reason for that: The device is intended to be “big enough for you to be able to put right beside you.” You’ll understand why you’d want a Gatebox so close soon enough.
The Gatebox is similar to Amazon’s Echo — it’s a voice-powered home assistant.
The Gatebox has a microphone and a camera because you operate it using your voice.
For now, it will respond only to Japanese; the company making Gatebox says it’s exploring other language options. Considering that units are available for both Japan and the US, we’d guess that an English-language option is in the works.
Gatebox does a lot of the same stuff that Echo does — it can automate your home in various ways, including turning on lights and waking you up in the morning.
But we’d be lying if we told you any of this stuff is the point of Gatebox. The actual point is the virtual character that “lives” inside of it.
Her name is Azuma Hikari, and she’s the star of the Gatebox.
Beyond being your personal assistant, she’s intended to be a companion of sorts.
The company behind Gatebox is pretty direct about its intentions here.
On the Gatebox official site, translated from Japanese, the product’s vision is described as such:
“The reason why we [developed] Gatebox is not because we are just pursuing entertainment or convenience. We want the characters [to] be naturally in our daily lives and spend relaxing [times] with us. ‘I want to live with my favourite character.’ We dreamed of such [a] world and we started this project.”
Rather than simply automating stuff in your home, Gatebox aims to fill your home with virtual characters.
The tone of the character is intentionally conversational. Azuma is your friend, not just your assistant.
There’s even a sweet visualisation for her warning about the weather.
As demonstrated in Gatebox’s latest video, Azuma’s essentially an endlessly friendly, non-sexual life partner.
She texts you throughout the day, like a human partner would.
And sometimes those text messages are ... suggestive.
And sometimes they’re direct.
In the latest video, Azuma is pitched as the doting partner who’s waiting patiently for your return home. Look, she even turned the lights on ahead of your arrival!
And she’s just as interested as you are in sitting on the couch and watching TV.
She even has her own chair and mug.
Sold on Gatebox? You can get one right for around US$2,500. Vinclu is shipping orders to Japan and the US thus far, but says it’s sold out at the moment.
The US store is here, and the Japan store is her e. You’d better be prepared to wait, though — pre-orders are already sold out, and it’s not clear when more are coming. Gatebox says it will tell people when more are ready as soon as possible.
Check out the latest video for Gatebox below. More characters are planned, but none have been announced yet. Stay tuned!
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