There is a lot of hype surrounding the release of Sony's latest robotic dog. It's called & # 39; Aibo & # 39; and it is promoted as the use of artificial intelligence to respond to people who look at it, speak and touch it.
Japanese customers have already purchased more than 20,000 units, and are expected to arrive in the United States before the holiday gift shopping season, at a price close to US $ 3,000.
Why would someone pay so much for a robotic dog?
My ongoing research suggests that part of the attraction could be explained through humanity's long-standing connection to various forms of puppets, religious icons and other figurines, which I collectively call "dolls".
These dolls, I maintain, are deeply rooted in our social and religious lives.
Humans share a deep and ancient relationship with ordinary objects, explains the researcher. When people create forms, they are participating in the ancient practice of tool making hominids
Spiritual and social dolls
As part of the process of writing a "spiritual story of the dolls," I have returned to the ancient mythology of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions where God formed the first human on earth and then breathed life into the world. creature of clay.
Since then, humans have tried to do the same, metaphorically, mystically and scientifically, by designing raw materials in shapes and figures that resemble people.
As the folklorist Adrienne Mayor explains in a recent study, "Gods and robots," these artificial creatures find their way into the myths of various ancient cultures, in various ways.
Beyond the stories, people have turned these figures into part of their religious lives in the form of icons of the Virgin Mary and votive objects in human form.
At the end of the 19th century, dolls with a gramophone record that could recite the Our Father were produced on a large scale.
That was considered a playful way to teach a child to be pious. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it is believed that certain spirits reside in figurines created by humans.
Through time and place, dolls have played a role in human affairs. In South Asia, dolls in various forms become ritually important during the great festival of the goddess Navaratri.
The Katsina dolls of the Hopi allow them to create their own identity. And in the famous Javanese and Balinese Wayang, depictions of shadow puppets, the mass audience learns about a mythical past and its influence on the present.
Making us human
In the modern Western context, the Barbie dolls and G.I. Joes have come to play an important role in the development of children.
It has been shown that Barbie has a negative impact on the girls' body images, while G.I. Joe has made many children believe that they are important, powerful and can do great things.
What is the root of our connection to dolls?
As I have argued in my previous research, humans share a deep and ancient relationship with ordinary objects. When people create shapes, they are participating in the tool making practice of ancient hominids.
The tools have agricultural, domestic and communication uses, but they also help people to think, feel, act and pray.
Dolls are a primary tool that humans have used for the spiritual and social dimensions of their lives.
They come to have a profound influence on humans. They help to build religious connections, such as teaching children to pray, serving as a means to answer prayers, provide protection and encourage healing.
They also model gender roles and teach people how to behave in society.
Toys and technological messages
Aibo and other similar technologies, I contend, play a similar role.
Part of aibo's charm is that it seems to see, hear and respond to touch. In other words, the mechanical dog has built-in intelligence, not unlike humans.
One can quickly find videos of people emotionally captivated by aibo because he has big eyes that "look" at people, bow his head, seem to listen, and move his tail when he is "caressed" in the right way.
The technologies do not compete with humans, says the researcher. In fact, technology is the divine breath, the animating and inspiring force of Homo sapiens. And, in my opinion, the dolls are vital technological tools that make their way in devotional lives, work places and social spaces
Another robot, PARO, a furry, stamp-shaped machine that purrs and vibrates while being caressed, has been shown to have a number of positive effects on older people, such as reducing anxiety, increasing social behavior and counteracting loneliness.
Dolls can have a profound and lasting psychological impact on young people. Psychotherapist Laurel Wider, for example, was concerned about the gender messages her son was receiving in social settings about how children are not supposed to cry or really show many feelings.
He then founded a new toy company to create dolls that could help foster empathy in children.
As Wider says, these dolls are "like a partner, an equal, but also small enough, vulnerable enough, where a child might also want to take care of him."
Outsourcing of social life?
Not everyone appreciates the influence that these dolls have had on our lives. Critics of these dolls argue that they externalize some of the most basic social skills of humanity.
Humans, they argue, need other humans to teach them about gender norms and provide companionship, not dolls and robots.
For example, Sherry Turkle of MIT disagrees somewhat with the praise given to these mechanical imitations.
Turkle has worked for a long time on the man-machine interface. Over the years, she has become more skeptical about the roles we assign to these mechanical tools.
When confronted with patients who used PARO, she was "deeply depressed" in society's recourse to machines as partners, when humans should spend more time with other humans.
Teaching us to be human?
It is difficult to disagree with Turkle's concerns, but that is not the point. What I argue is that, as humans, we share a deep connection with such dolls.
The new wave of dolls and robots are fundamental to motivate more questions about who we are as humans.
Taking into account technological advances, people ask if robots "can have feelings", be "Jewish" or "make art".
When people try to answer these questions, they must first reflect on what it means for humans to have feelings, be Jewish, and make art.
WHAT IS THE SONY AIBO ROBOTIC DOG?
Sony launched the first generation AIBO in June 1999, with the initial batch of 3,000 sold in just 20 minutes, despite the high price of 250,000 yen (more than $ 2,000 or £ 1,500).
In the following years, more than 150,000 units were sold, in numerous versions, from shining versions of metallic silver to models of round face of puppy.
In 2006, however, Sony's business was in trouble and AIBO, an expensive and somewhat frivolous luxury, had to leave.
Last year, Sony revived AIBO with a new version of the 30 centimeter (one foot) dog that costs around £ 1,300 ($ 1,750).
AIBO is considered a pet that behaves like a puppy using artificial intelligence (AI) to learn and interact with its owner and its environment.
Sony has revived AIBO, a robot that learns how to interact with its owner and is "able to build loving relationships," according to Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai. The new version of the 30 centimeter (one foot) dog will be launched in Japan in January (pictured)
The reborn AIBO introduces a new actuator technology that allows it to move more smoothly and naturally like a real dog.
With detection technologies and artificial intelligence, AIBO can run to its owner and detect smiles and words of praise, and can remember what actions please the owner.
His eyes are made of organic light emitting diode (OLED) screens that make him capable of various expressions.
The robot comes with a variety of sensors, cameras and microphones and has Internet connectivity, allowing owners to play with the pet remotely through a smartphone.
Some scholars even argue that humans have always been cyborgs, always a mixture of human biological bodies and technological parts.
As philosophers such as Andy Clark have argued, "our tools are not just accessories and external aids, but are deep and integral parts of the problem solving systems we now identify as human intelligence."
Technologies do not compete with humans. In fact, technology is the divine breath, the animating and inspiring force of Homo sapiens. And, in my opinion, dolls are vital technological tools that make their way into devotional lives, workplaces and social spaces.
As we create, we are being created simultaneously.