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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien

Research Overview

Japan’s Future Imaginaries of Extended Reality

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Japan’s Future Imaginaries of Extended Reality

 October 2023 - ongoing

The connection between literary fiction and visions of future technological innovation is typical for emerging technologies which, especially in the early stages of development and adoption, tend to rely heavily on ideas directly derived from Sci-Fi. Large Japanese tech corporations such as Sony and NTT are no exception to this, given that they increasingly collaborate with popular Sci-Fi authors. In the context of explicitly Sci-Fi-inspired prototyping initiatives, these tech corporations even provide short Sci-Fi novels on their websites. In those fictional stories, technological progress to come as well as its impact on Japanese society is mapped out, thus implying the corporation’s stance towards emerging technologies.

The project analyses this connection between Sci-Fi narratives and technological innovation, between fiction and future in the making, based on the theory of Sociotechnical or Future Imaginaries. Imaginaries are, as Sheila Jasanoff put it, “collectively held, institutionally stabilized, and publicly performed visions of desirable futures, animated by shared understandings of forms of social life and social order attainable through, and supportive of, advances in S&T [science and technology]”. They are instrumentalized in policymaking and, especially in recent years, increasingly by large tech corporations which are the focus of this research project. Blurring the line between factual prognostics and idealized hopes and expectations, imaginaries are created with the intention to regulate public perception of and attitudes towards emerging technologies. One rarely-explored example of this are technologies of Extended Reality (XR) as an umbrella-term for fully-immersive Virtual Reality (VR) and partly-immersive Augmented Reality (AR): Whereas rich sociological research on VR already exists in Japan, AR has been mostly ignored.

The project will close this research gap. It pays close attention to how collaborations with large tech corporations might affect the work of Japanese Sci-Fi authors, to the relationship between fictional narratives and Future Imaginaries, and to characteristics of these phenomena which might be specific to Japan. These aspects are explored through a blended, i.e. quantitative-qualitative corpora analysis based on a narrative-focused, fictional corpus of Japanese Sci-Fi novels and an imaginary-focused, nonfictional corpus of XR-related news articles and press releases. In doing so, the project explores Extended Reality as one aspect of a future which—between visions of a tech-driven shiny new world, and the more sobering problems and challenges Japan’s contemporary society is undeniably facing—might just now be narrated and envisioned into being.