Ivan Cherepukhin

@ivandothetrick

Would a robot pet enhance your life?

We all know that dogs are a man’s best friend, but has the world really come to this?

Just Jeff walking his dog

On a particularly blustery day in New York City, I found myself (as one with the income bracket of a writer sporadically does) on the Upper East Side, amidst tribes of cooler-than-thou high school students, dedicated dog walkers and women wearing hats that looked like a Shar-Pei had potentially suffered in the making of it.

Nonetheless, I braved the chilly air and found solace in the Cooper Hewitt Museum, the design institution that is part of the Smithsonian. Upon entering, visitors are greeted with a magic wand-looking pen tool, that serves as an interactive notekeeper for items you are interested in. “How innovative.” Perfect for a museum about innovation, am I right? With my magic wand in hand, I entered the Narnia of objects, with the first stop being an exhibition titled “Access and Ability.” Featuring “artifacts” designed for people with disabilities, I was surprised to find among the various innovations, a very cute-looking puppy that I instinctively wanted to pet. But I did not, for fear of being arrested, a la Ocean’s 12.

But this was not just any dog. This was… a robot. Part of me thought that this was kind of like a dream puppy of sorts: it’s cute, it’s fluffy, it loves being pet, and responds to all your affection. We all know that dogs are a man’s best friend, but has the world really come to this?

IMAGE: JOYFORALL AT HASBRO WEBSITE COVER PICTURE

Cooper Hewitt has one of Hasbro’s Joy For All Companion Pets in its collection, which must mean if it’s in a museum, robot pets are a real thing, right? Like not just some weird tech-world development for sociopaths? A number of different companies have developed robot “pets” not for kids as toys, but with the purpose of serving as therapeutic devices for people who do not have the capacity to care for a pet as someone normally would.

Robot dogs are now overtaking the world as more popular than real dogs. Just kidding. But the end may not be too far off, as seen in this creepy video, which is a parody of Planet Earth. According to the CDC, pets have a variety of positive benefits on your health. Not only does caring for a pet see such side effects as decreased blood pressure and cholesterol levels, ownership allows for more opportunities to exercise and socialize. So…does having a robotic version produce the same effects?

Apparently, when Sony discontinued its long-loved Aibo dog in Japan, customers were so upset they held actual funerals.

Clearly there was a connection. Targeted specifically towards elderly patients with dementia and autism, robot pets are currently being marketed as an alternative to real animals, with health advantages that are being touted as the next big thing in medicine.

APPARENTLY, WHEN SONY DISCONTINUED ITS LONG-LOVED AIBO DOG IN JAPAN, CUSTOMERS WERE SO UPSET THEY HELD ACTUAL FUNERALS.

Clearly there was a connection. Targeted specifically towards elderly patients with dementia and autism, robot pets are currently being marketed as an alternative to real animals, with health advantages that are being touted as the next big thing in medicine.

IMAGE: SHUTTERSTOCK/HANZI-MOR VIA GIZMODO

PARO, the adorable baby seal robot you saw on Master of None, has “been found to reduce patient stress and has has been shown to have a psychological effect on patients, improving their relaxation and motivation.” And technology is only getting smarter, soon beating us at our own version of basic human emotions — the animals are equipped with sensors designed to react to their caregivers’ emotions, encompassing touch, light, audio, temperature and posture. In other words, the more love you give PARO, the more it loves you back. As you develop a relationship with PARO over time, the pet becomes responsive to its owner, acting in ways that make it more likely to be stroked and rewarding positive interactions with cute baby seal behaviors. Who doesn’t love cute baby seal behaviors?!

While Hasbro’s version isn’t as high-tech as PARO, it’s also aimed at senior citizens as therapeutic animals. A step up from the Furbys of our 90s childhood past, Hasbro’s version comes with a much lower price point, while still emulating the sensory elements of owning a real pooch and respond to petting and hugs with typical pet reactions. So next time you’re at Grandma Mildred’s house, you might be pleasantly surprised to see that the putrid cat-piss smell that never seems to go away is replaced by Fido the Bot. Not a bad tradeoff.

Want to see this cyber nightmarish reality for yourself? Head to Cooper Hewitt to look into our future — a crystal ball of a world filled with robot dogs chasing you — and share your reaction on the Round app. On the bright side, say goodbye to having to take Benadryl before heading to Grandma’s!

By DALYA BENOR / March 23, 2018 9:38 AM
(
Dalya Benor is a freelance writer based in NYC. She is the Associate Editor at Office Magazine and contributes to various publications )

Thanks for reading. Thanks double extra for holding down that 👏 button. 
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