The $3,000 answer to Amazon's Echo could make Japan's sex crisis even worse

Japan has a sex problem. The country’s birthrate is shrinking year after year, to the point where deaths are outpacing births.

Simply put, the population of Japan 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 to 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 is an AI character who lives in a glass tube in your home. Her name is Azuma Hikari, and she’s the star of Gatebox — a $A3,000, Amazon Echo-esque device that acts as home assistant and home companion. 

Here’s what we know:

A Japanese company named Vinclu created the Gatebox:


It's about the size of an 8x11 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 Gateboox so close soon enough.

The Gatebox is similar to Amazon's Echo -- it's a voice-powered home assistant:

Vinclu Inc.

As seen above, the Gatebox device has a microphone and a camera -- that's because you operate it using your voice.

For now, it will only respond to Japanese; the company making Gatebox says it's exploring other language options. Considering that pre-order units are available for both Japan and the US, we'd guess that English language options are in the works.

Gatebox does a lot of the same stuff that Echo does -- it can automate your home in various ways, from turning on lights to waking you up in the morning:

Vinclu Inc
It looks a bit like a futuristic French press coffeemaker.

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:

Vinclu Inc

Her name is Azuma Hikari, and she's the star of the Gatebox.

Vinclu Inc

Beyond just being your personal assistant, she's intended as a companion of sorts.

Vinclu Inc

The company behind Gatebox is pretty direct about its intentions here.

Vinclu Inc

On the Gatebox official site, 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:

Vinclu Inc
That's a lot of virtual characters! But then again, who doesn't want a fish eating potato chips flying through their living room?

The tone of the character is intentionally conversational -- Azuma is your friend, not just your assistant.

Vinclu Inc
In the above example, the Gatebox device sits on a desk -- Azuma can be seen inside, projected onto a transparent screen.

There's even a sweet visualisation for her warning:

Vinclu Inc

As demonstrated in Gatebox's latest video, Azuma's essentially an endlessly friendly, non-sexual life partner.

Vinclu Inc

She text messages you throughout the day (kinda like a human partner might).

Vinclu Inc

And sometimes those text messages are...suggestive.

Vinclu Inc

And sometimes they're direct:

Vinclu Inc

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!

Vinclu Inc

And she's just as interested as you are in sitting on the couch and watching television.

Vinclu Inc

She's even got her own chair and mug!

Vinclu Inc

Sold on Gatebox? You can pre-order one right now for around $A3,000 -- Vinclu is shipping orders to Japan and the US thus far:

Vinclu Inc

The US store is right here, and the Japan store is right here. You'd better be prepared to wait, though -- pre-orders are expected to ship around December 2017.

Check out the latest video for Gatebox right here -- more characters are planned, but none have been announced just yet. Stay tuned!

Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through hispersonal investment company Bezos Expeditions.

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