Part 1 – The Robotic Moment

In the beginning…

In the 1980 several kids and adults started experiencing the interaction with computer based toys.  I am not referring to the Atari or console games.  These toys provided a direct interaction and response from the user.  The user believes there is a way of ‘liveness’ within that object.  If the toy is on and talking, it is ‘alive’ and you can ‘kill it’ by removing it’s batteries.

Through time…

As technology evolved, smarter toys started to appear.  The Furby and the Tamagotchi became part of many households and even part of the family.  I like the definition that Sherry Turkle mentions in her book when the kids try to define these new characters: “sort of alive” or “alive enough”.  Since these new computer toys presented a more realistic body, like the Furby, it became easier for kids to embed him with biological characteristics like love, fear, loneliness or pain.

I will argue that in the traditional role play created by imagination when kids add these type of characteristics to non responsive toys like a Teddy Bear or any cuddling toy, the element of interactive response to the user will enhance exponentially this characteristics.

Kids mentioned in the study encountered a situation in which they ‘operated’ a Furby.  Some mentioned that he was going to ‘die’. This openness and receptiveness to the live shows a level of acceptance from the kids towards the object.  They accepted the toy into their life and became attached to it.  Not to the toy Furby.  But to the ‘entity’ with a specific name which happens to be from a Furby ‘race’.

The Tamagotchi presented a similar case.  The object presented a body contained within an egg.  When kids play with non computer toys, they have to provide the thoughts to those characters.  The Tamagochi will have its own ‘thoughts’ and ‘demands’.  This presents also another type of ‘aliveness’.  Kids become attached to the specific Tamagotchi raised within that egg.  They also will have a massive guilt if the Tamagotchi dies. They will miss the ‘entity’ and even some kids won’t ‘reset’ the Tamagotchi to bring a new one back up, they will bury the Tamagotchi and buy a complete new one and start from scratch. (pp 33)

Now…

Technology keeps evolving and we keep adapting to it.  New toys or companions start to emerge. Not only for kids, but also for older people.  Robots that will be able to provide company to elder people or perhaps act as a loving partner for people who have social problems.

What are the ethical or natural issues with this?  How is this affecting the world? Will people just stop dating and just go straight away for the ‘safer’ partner?  I believe this type of technological changes have to be monitored in order for us to be prepared and be capable of understanding these new relationships.

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