The Japanese crowd sits hushed and somber as the character on stage turns away from his co-star, an actress seated on the floor in front of a small table. He lowers his head, then turns to face the audience with a look that is both blank and inscrutable, yet somehow conveys a profound sense of alarm. Something here is very wrong. The dimly lit theater somewhere on the outskirts of Tokyo is packed. Young couples on dates, elderly theater connoisseurs, and even a few teenagers have crammed into the rickety building to catch a glimpse of the future, as visualized by playwright and director Oriza Hirata. They entered in good humor, chatting and laughing. But now they’re quietly transfixed. The character at the center of the tension is a three-foot-tall robot with an oversize plastic head faintly reminiscent of a giant kewpie doll. He is one of two robots in the play. The other has just rolled off the stage wearing a floral print apron. “I’m sorry,” the robot says, lifting a pair of orblike eyes to address the actress. “I don’t feel like working . . . at all.” The robot is depressed. In Hirata’s I, Worker, robots are more than just mechanical automatons that can vacuum and manufacture widgets. They have emotions, a development that poses challenges to both the robots and their owners. The play grapples with how to navigate such a relationship—what happens when both master and servant become depressed? It’s fiction, but Hirata’s vision reflects a dawning reality in Japan. There, scientists and policymakers see a new role for robots in society: as colleagues, caregivers, and even our friends.