Robots now are the airplanes of Miyazaki's 'The Wind Rises'Submitted by Michael Nystrom on Mon, 02/24/2014 - 15:04
The Wind Rises is Hayao Miyazaki's latest, and possibly last full length animated film. It is a fictionalized story of the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the designer and engineer of the Mitsubishi Zero, the plane that Japanese Kamikaze pilots flew to their deaths. It is a deeply moving and tragic film.
In the movie, Jiro is portrayed as a dreamer, primarily interested in using the latest technology of his day - aviation technology - to make something beautiful that the world had never seen before. His aim was not to make weapons of war, but that is ultimately what ended up happening.
I saw the film yesterday and cried and cried and cried. Jiro had such a drive to create these machines. He was enthralled by their beauty and potential. But ultimately he had no control over how they would be used.
I am reminded of the film this morning by an article about a Carnegie Mellon professor of robotics Illah Nourbakhsh. Professor Nourbakhsh does not accept defense funding. Like Jiro, he wants to use cutting edge technology for good.
“The reason we don’t take defense funding, is we want to build robots and robot technologies that we want people to use,” he said. “We don’t want to spend all our time building a really advanced interesting killing machine that we hope nobody ever has to use.”
In eastern thought, "The Wind Rises" can be roughly translated as "The winds of change are upon us."
This is evident in the film, which begins with the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 that leveled Tokyo. We see Japan moving from its traditional society to take its place in the modern world.
After a visit to Germany, Jiro is painfully aware of how poor and backward Japan is. They are still making planes of wood and canvas, and hauling them to the airstrip for testing with oxen. Japan is in a hurry to move forward.
Today the wind is rising once again.
The chill wind of technology blows, and the Giants are in a mad rush toward the unprecedented glories that technology will inevitably bring. There are a few voices of caution. Bill Joy was one of the first. Jaron Lanier is another, as is Professor Nourbakhsh, who warns of a potential dystopian future in his book, Robot Futures.
With his film, The Wind Rises, Hayao Miyazaki is another voice of caution. There is nothing overbearing or heavy handed in the message of the film. The viewer will be left to draw his own conclusions.
The message that I was left with is to always be careful of your actions, and think of how your creations may be used once they are out of your control.
We are all creators. Our words and actions are fundamentally creative acts.