Chapter 4 – Enchantment

There is a very funny subtile that says “Don’t we have people for these jobs?

The already accepted machines for our everyday life allows these robots to start replacing us in several situations.  There are cases in which the AIBO is taken into elderly homes in order to provide ‘company’ or entertainment to people.  The same way that kids provided care for the Furby, now these new ‘Furbys’ will start taking care of us.  There are several cases of elder people left alone, I believe an AIBO or an AI machine can be capable of providing this caring feeling.
If you or somebody you know has allergies to fur, perhaps getting a cat or a dog won’t be a very good option.  In this case the AIBO becomes a good option.

As presented on the previous posts, we are always going to compare the machines to the ‘real thing’.

Some experiments presented that some kids would rather be with a robot than with a real babysitter.  Some babysitter will neglect the job and go to their friend’s house. Some other ones will not be able to come up with good cooking ideas for dinner time. Some other ones don’t even know how to play.  A robot that can be able to provide all this can be able to be more reliable than the ‘real thing’.  That is why some kids would actually prefer the companionship of a robot.

Staying in the enchanting subject and the comparison between the real and the artificial, lets see something like Hatsune Miku.  A Vocaloid based singer that performs as a hologram with a computer based voice and the fans love it.  The songs are written by real musicians and performed by real musicians, it just happens that the singer is a holographic robot.  Some people will argue that the real thing is better, but when we compare it to the real thing in which voices have been autotuned or have been completely modified by computers and don’t sound anything like the track when you see them live; what is better.  Or in this case is the ‘artificial’ better? Or how many un talented singers and band we will encounter?  Just because they are ‘alive’ does it make them better?

I will leave you with two videos:

  • Hatsune Miku live in Tokio
  • The worst live event ever!

I would actually stick with the ‘artificial’ one.

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Chapter 3 – True Companions

With the introduction of robots like the Sony’s AIBO, a robotic dog, many ideas of what is alive and what is not start to change. The AIBO takes the relationship of user and robot a little bit further.  With the Tamagotchi you had to clean, heal, feed and take general care of the little bugger. The Furby presented a more realistic body with fur and also what seemed to be a true learning curve that made kids adopt the real role of parent or teacher.  This AIBO takes all these elements to the next stage.

Depending of how he is treated, he will evolve or adapt to those type of treatments.  This means it will create some sort of ‘personality’.  That’s what we needed, robots with issues and demands.  This rephrases the previous topics of “alive enough” and “sort of alive”.  Now with these robots, we have to consider their feelings.  Kids no longer have to explain how their favorite toy is feeling, the little robot will provide feedback to that in which the children or user will have to adapt to it.

Sherry Turkle brings up a very interesting concept: alterity.

“The ability to see the world through the eyes of another”.  “Without alterity there can be no empathy”.

And empathy I will argue is one of the main elements that will make robots true companions.  They can be able to train people or kids before they get the real live ‘thing’. Some kids even prefer the robot than the real thing, the same as adults [as mentioned on previous posts]. When kids compare them to their previous toys, they refer to them as more real  because those robots can be able to adapt like a living animal.

People see in these robots a “window to express their feelings”.  They know the robot will provide a response and for that reason is not like talking to a Teddy Bear.  Our imagination and the social need of not being alone, I believe directs us to believe these things, o to believe on these robots.

I saw this video on Youtube in which a cat is just playing nearby the AIBO.  It is interesting the comments that people stated.

  • AIBO is my household’s favourite pet, a view not shared by our rather jealous cat Nike…
  • enjoy your AIBO, but please don’t neglect your cat.
  • Cool toy! How do u take care of it?
  • It is a sad day for the animal kingdom. Robots are officially more intelligent than them.
  • roflmao!!! he asked where’s the ball and the dog got scared and knocked itself over! hahahaha
  • your cat is like 1000x times better than this non functioning dog crap

Most of the comments give the AIBO live characteristics.  But most of them are still comparing them to the real thing.  This means the possibility of replacement is still there.

Chapter 2 – Alive Enough

As mentioned on the previous entries, the amount of interactivity that these characters with computer elements allows the user, in this case kids, to attribute them some level of mortal or live characteristics.

They love these objects and they truly believe that they are being loved back.  The children now start becoming responsible for this virtual pets. They are responsible for it’s ‘physical’ and ‘ emotional’ wellbeing. The toy evolves, grows and adapts, very similar to a child’s mind.

Designed to give users a sense of progress in teaching it, when the Furby evolves over time, it becomes the irreplaceable repository of it’s owner’s care.

These toys start to become pets. Some kids become more attached to the toy than the biological pet.

I saw a video in which a girl is in front of a dog puppet.  It is interesting how nobody pays attention to the puppeteer. Instead, the attention is focused on the puppet dog and the girl interacting with her. Not even the girl notices the puppeteer. Once the relationship with the object starts, the mind will block out any external elements and will just fill the blanks with what we want to see or believe.

There is a difference between a live object and a non live one.  If a machine breaks, we can just fix it and care for it.  But if we bring the live element to any machine, we will take care of it’s well being.  If it ‘breaks’ this means it is ‘sick’ and the user will become worried about the ‘pain’ it may feel.  This enhances the bond between the user (children) and the machine (Furby, Tamagotchi, etc.).

As these relationships become stronger, and real human interaction becomes more distant. These type of objects will start replacing that void created by the lack of human contact.  I have a very young cousin that I remember that one Christmas he got some toys as presents.  I was expecting him to run to his mother or father and show off his toys.  Instead, he ran to the service lady who seem to have replaced the position of the mother.  As humans, we need to fill that void, the same way the service lady takes place of the mother, an AI droid can be replacing the mother’s love the same way.

There are also several cases of children expressing their social needs or the lack of it by the insertion of these characters into their everyday life.  The reflect their struggles, fears and all kind of emotions on these machines.  They feel safer and more connected to them or at least less fearful to communicate their secrets.

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.

Introduction

As we advance to ‘modern’ times, we become more and more attached to technology.  This technology could be smart phones, electronic toys, computers or even social networking sites.  At the same time, all this technology makes us being more and more connected to each other.  Being this the case, how come people seem to be more and more away from each other.

Universities are trying to create spaces in ‘Second Life’ when they are failing to maintain the numbers in the ‘real life’.  Family members talk through Skype while multitasking making this conversation less important to the other activities taking place at the same moment.

We are living in revolutionary times in which robotic ‘entities’ have been part of our lives.  I belong to a generation in which I grew up with ‘robot’ companions.  These robots were perhaps not very ‘clever’ or ‘intelligent’ as they seem to be now but they were still there playing with us since we were kids.

 

Now, the new Artificial Intelligence (AI) is presented today with smarter and a more ‘live’ robots.  These robots start to raise social and ethical issues.  Can you love a robot? Can a robot love you? Would you rather be loved by a robot rather than being dumped by a very nasty partner?

All this thoughts will be covered on these series as a part of a series of chapters, all the way from the 2XL and the Tamagotchi, all the way to the modern robotic human companions.