April 13, 2005


Japan's hi-tech carers: By 2050, the over 65s in Japan are expected to make up a third of the population... and it's likely that technology will be relied upon to help look after them. (My Special Partner is part of a Golden Years mini-series broadcast on BBC Two.)

Seventy-eight-year-old widow, Akino Okano, is lonely.

In Japan, the average woman lives to 85, seven years beyond the average man.

From the age of 22, Akino lived with her husband's parents and 11 other members of his family. But they have all died or moved away and she now lives in an enormous farmhouse on her own.

"When I come back from being out for the day and the house is dark, I feel alone and sad," says Akino.

"Conversation makes me happy. Sometimes I just feel like chatting."

To help combat the loneliness of longevity - and in true Japanese style - the country has turned to technology for guidance.

Special partner

Akino has been introduced to Primo Puel, an interactive doll that talks, giggles and even asks for cuddles.

It provides her with much of the company she longs for, especially in the evening.

Originally designed to be a substitute boyfriend for young single girls in the workforce, the doll has become an unexpected hit with elderly people across Japan.

Since they came on to the market five years ago, more than one million dolls have been sold.

However, the idea for such an innovative alternative to human companionship has been bubbling away in laboratories for much longer.

The National Institute of Advanced Science has been busy designing a robot seal, specifically for people like Akino.

There is no way, of course, to measure the misery and suffering produced by prolonged supermax confinement. Inmates have described life in a supermax as akin to living in a tomb. At best, prisoners' days are marked by idleness, tedium, and tension. But for many, the absence of normal social interaction, of reasonable mental stimulus, of exposure to the natural world, of almost everything that makes life human and bearable, is emotionally, physically, and psychologically destructive. Prisoners subjected to prolonged isolation may experience depression, despair, anxiety, rage, claustrophobia, hallucinations, problems with impulse control, and/or an impaired ability to think, concentrate, or remember. As one federal judge noted, prolonged supermax confinement "may press the outer bounds of what most humans can psychologically tolerate."

Some inmates subjected to supermax confinement develop clinical symptoms usually associated with psychosis or severe affective disorders. For mentally ill prisoners, supermax confinement can be a living horror: the social isolation and restricted activities can aggravate their illness and immeasurably increase their pain and suffering. Moreover, few supermax facilities offer mentally ill inmates the full range of mental health services and treatment that their psychiatric conditions require.

Fortunately, supertoys last all Winter long.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 13, 2005 7:03 AM

With respect to the isolation in these prisons, the Left will soon pick up the banner of giving inmates access to society (and demand that it be a constitutional right).

As the death penalty debate narrows, the rights of inmates like Mumia! to have access to society will move to the fore. Another reason why judicial appointments must be addressed now.

I would also note that it is evil to put any man (woman) in a cell for 167 hours a week. Give them books, give them magazines, give them newspapers, give them TVs that run the Weather and History channels. But don't give them insanity.

Posted by: jim hamlen at April 13, 2005 9:59 AM


No one cares how bad prison is. We can all proclaim our moral purity by opposing capital punishment while we torture them for sixty years instead.

Posted by: oj at April 13, 2005 10:16 AM

When I lived in New York City in its darkest days, my apartment windows had bars, the door was made of steel and triple locked, and you didn't go out at night. Better that violent, repeat felons be locked in isolation cells than law abiding citizens.

Posted by: David Rothman at April 13, 2005 10:59 AM


Compassion is not an unlimited resource. Mine runs out long before I get to these people.


No moral purity here. Death penalty is fine with me, although a quick prick to the elbow is probably better than they deserve.

Posted by: Rick T. at April 13, 2005 11:19 AM

In prison it isn't their elbow.

Posted by: oj at April 13, 2005 11:32 AM

Of the two (supermax vs. death), the first is the cruel and unusal punishment. If we don't want those people in our society, then it's our duty to remove them in a humane manner, not hide them away because we are too squeamish to complete the job.

The real problem is that groups like the so-called Human Rights watch can only offer criticism, never a solution, and often make the problem worse, in this case, by their opposition to capital punishment. If we were allowed to remove the worst, permanantly, then there would be reason to be humane and rehabilitate those who we expect to rejoin society,and teach them how to properly behave in that society. And their criticism of not doing that would then be constructive criticism.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at April 13, 2005 12:46 PM


Essentially nihilist organizations want vicious criminals out on the streets so they can help tear down society. That is the goal of Human Rights Watch.

Posted by: bart at April 13, 2005 12:52 PM

Just wait until we find out you can get stem cells for treating alzheimers from them. We'll be pureeing jaywalkers.

Posted by: Mike Earl at April 13, 2005 1:29 PM

Teach them to read and provide them with productive physical labor to fill their days. Easier said than done, but better than a warehouse.

Posted by: Genecis at April 13, 2005 1:43 PM

The wink and a nod towards prison rape should be ended. Getting raped shouldn't be a part of going to prison.

Posted by: Pat H at April 13, 2005 2:06 PM

If you had the choice between a flogging or prison who wouldn't choose flogging?

Posted by: carter at April 13, 2005 3:35 PM

Mike Earl;

Larry Niven had a whole set of stories set in a world where organ transplants could be done basically between any two people. Capital punishment became very popular.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at April 13, 2005 9:51 PM