This Week's Herman Trend Alert

Leadership in Normal 2.0

  The Herman Trend Alert

March 18, 2015

The Humanization of Robot Pets

When Sony launched its robot dog Aibo in 1999, its initial batch of 3,000 units sold out in 20 minutes in the United States and Japan---at a price of about $2,000 each. Aibo, short for "Artificially Intelligent Robot", not only responded to external stimuli, but also was also able to learn and express itself. Each unit actually developed its own unique personality, including behaviors shaped by the approval and disapproval of its owner. The "animal" quickly became a hit---especially in Japan.

Advantages of Robotic Pets

The "dogs" cost between $600 and $2,000, less than some real dogs. However there are many more real advantages. Owners love the fact that they can leave for vacation and not worry about arranging a pet sitter. They don't have to feed them or clean up their mess and they never need taking out.

Sony ceases Production then Support

Back in 2006, Sony announced it would stop making Aibo---in spite of its loyal fanbase of about 150,000 units. For years, following the announcement, when owners experienced technical difficulties, Sony repaired Aibos. But then in July 2014, Sony stopped making those repairs; owners were left to look elsewhere for help. Sony' decision not only led to the formation of support groups---where Aibo owners can share tips and help each other with repairs---but it also created the "bionic pet vet" industry.

People are Emotionally Attached to their Robot Pets
Aibo and other robot pets make great companions. Some Japanese purchased their puppies after the death of a spouse or other loved one. Not surprisingly, Aibo owners became very attached to their robotic companions and treat them as family members. "The people who have them feel their presence and personality, so we think that somehow, they really have souls", said Nobuyuki Narimatsu, director of A-Fun, a repair company for robot dogs. When 19 pet robot dogs could not be repaired, there was a full Buddhist funeral arranged for them.

The Implications for Humans and Robots
If people are relating to robotic pets as members of their family, when we have humanoid robots, the implications are clear: we may expect humans to feel even more attached to machines that look like people. The arrival of humanoid robots will mean companionship for many who are now lonely. We will need new laws and new ways of relating with thee new electronic "beings". It will be brave new world. ###

Special thanks to Newsweek Magazine and The Wall Street Journal for the information leading to these insights.

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