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Robotics Science

Robot Pets Almost as Good as Real Ones? 229

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the cutting-your-hand-on-a-loose-bolt dept.
Gallamine writes "Many people claim that pets are good for their owners. But, what about robot pets? Some scientists at the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue's Veterinary school say yes, robot pets can benefit humans. Petting an AIBO caused the human stress hormone cortisol to decrease in patients, much like a real dog, although the effects weren't as pronounced. Also, AIBOs sent to nursing homes caused the residents to be less depressed and lonely. Similar research is being done by Dr. Dr. Takanori Shibata with his robotic seal named Pero."
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Robot Pets Almost as Good as Real Ones?

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  • No comparison (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jason1729 (561790) on Monday January 23, 2006 @06:33AM (#14537871)
    A real dog is devoted to its master and euphoricly happy to see him/her.

    A robot dog is a pile of parts running a program.
    • Re:No comparison (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MikeFM (12491) on Monday January 23, 2006 @06:37AM (#14537889) Homepage Journal
      It depends how smart your robot dog is. I've had some robotic and digital pets that were very intelligent and because they had built-in emotion systems and learning they could learn love, hate, loyalty, etc. Not as good as a real animal yet but it does have the benefit that when it breaks you can fix it which is something I sadly cannot say of my real pets which I've lost many of over the years.
      • Re:No comparison (Score:2, Insightful)

        by GuidoW (844172)
        No, a robot pet can never learn love, loyalty, hate or other emotions. It can at best closely mimic the behaviour caused by these emotions in real animals.
        • Re:No comparison (Score:3, Interesting)

          by MikeFM (12491)
          Why not? A brain is nothing but a computer and emotions are nothing but a function of the mind. If it is hard programmed to do these emotions then it is only a mimic. If it learns them itself then it is feeling them.
          • Re:No comparison (Score:3, Insightful)

            by GuidoW (844172)
            No, a brain works fundamentally different from a computer. True, a very much evolved computer may show emergent characteristics that might be interpreted as consciousness and emotions, but those would likely bear little resemblances to our idea of emotions.

            Anyway, everything we have right now in this department is just a cheap, superficial copy of the real thing.
            • *shrugs* The difference between brain and computer is arguable I guess since nobody really understands the brain entirely yet but pretty much any kind of processing can be done on a computer that can be done in the brain if you know how it works. Slower but the same thing in principal. My experience is that emotions are not very intensive to process as it's just a much more internal network of experience than a thinking system. If you do something and it hurts then you quickly learn that and the relationshi
          • You believe the brain to be all of your mind.

            I think science will prove otherwise with time. Physics include both relativity and quantuum physics, and there seems to be no end to the mystery in sight. String theory is dealing with what? 10-15 dimensions? How can you say it's all mechanical when science have been dealing with the mysterious the last 30-40 years?

            Newton introduced the mechanical clockwork universe as a metaphor. He didn't even believe in it himself, it was just a model for calculating certain
            • Be all mystical if it makes you feel better. There is no reason the brain needs to be as complex as you make out but even if it is that makes it no less a computer. A very powerful computer in many regards but still a computer. The human brain is probably the most complex machine we've yet discovered and no doubt it'll be quite a while until we've figured it all out (willingness of test subjects to have their brains experimented on being as limited as it is) but there is no evidence that there is anything a
        • Re:No comparison (Score:5, Interesting)

          by david.given (6740) <dgNO@SPAMcowlark.com> on Monday January 23, 2006 @07:32AM (#14538126) Homepage Journal
          No, a robot pet can never learn love, loyalty, hate or other emotions. It can at best closely mimic the behaviour caused by these emotions in real animals.

          Are you sure? Can you prove that? Can you state what it is makes a 'real' animal different from a robot, other than several orders of magnitude of complexity?

          • As far as today is concerned, a robot is executing a program, which means that it will never do anything it has not been programmed to do by a human being. This is inherently different from a real dog, where more or less noone has a clue of what's going on inside.

            A dog is the only master of its behavior, not a robot (ie: a program).

            --
            Krazy Kat [ignatzmouse.net]
            • As far as today is concerned, a robot is executing a program, which means that it will never do anything it has not been programmed to do by a human being. This is inherently different from a real dog...

              Learning algorithms are as old as computing; you can easily build a system that will learn from its environment. Does learnt behaviour in that respect count as 'programmed by a human being'? Do you also count algorithms constructed using evolutionary systems? How are they different from behaviours induced

            • "...executing a program, which means that it will never do anything it has not been programmed to do by a human being."

              You've obviously never heard of Turing, Godel or answered a support call.
            • A dog is the only master of its behavior

              It isn't quite as simple as that.

              Dogs are creatures of instinct and some of those instincts are the product of many generations of selective breeding. Some breeds of dogs are good-natured and friendly, some are good hunters, and some are aggressive and violent.

              At some point in their lives, a dog's instincts will over-ride any training they have been given. The effects of this can vary in severity. My family keeps Labrador Retrievers, and they appear to have two fun

        • Po-tay-to, po-tah-to. ^_^
        • Re:No comparison (Score:3, Insightful)

          by cellocgw (617879)
          No, a robot pet can never learn love, loyalty, hate or other emotions. It can at best closely mimic the behaviour caused by these emotions in real animals.
          I call that irrelevant. Us pet owners anthropomorphize like crazy. Dogs wag their tails and lick our faces to show submission and we interpret it as love. Cats rub up against our legs to mark their ownership and we interpret it as affection.
          And so on. Who cares? The pets are happy and well cared-for, and the owners feel great.
          If a nice soft fuzzy ro
        • Animals are just food and cheap labor for the human race. At most, toys for old people or children. A robotic pet is just ok for the latter purpose.

          Yep, that's the future: artificial, plastic, inorganic stuff devoid of emotions to please the empty souls of a huge mass of individuals in a faceless society. Tigers, horses, dogs and cats will be just stuff of legend, perhaps their DNA stored in some database for some instant food device...
    • Re:No comparison (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Bazzalisk (869812) on Monday January 23, 2006 @06:39AM (#14537896) Homepage
      A robot dog is a pile of parts running a program.

      So is a real dog, just the parts are squishier and the programme is more complex.

      • Re:No comparison (Score:3, Interesting)

        by bmo (77928)
        "So is a real dog, just the parts are squishier and the programme is more complex"

        Sometimes the less complex program of an electronic dog is a plus, as it would lack these functions:

        1. Go apeshit when the doorbell rings
        2. Piddle in the corner at random times
        3. Jump on visitors
        4. Hump visitors' legs and sniff their crotches
        5. Suffer from separation anxiety when you go to work
        6. Fish out "treats" from the catbox.

        --
        BMO
        • Maybe so, but if I had an "e-dog" I would miss coming home and having my 100 lbs of dog acting like I am just the most wonderful person in the world. Watching her whole body wag with joy (I'm not kidding) is pretty uplifting. You aren't going to get that out of a computer chip.
      • A robot dog is a pile of parts running a program. So is a real dog, just the parts are squishier and the programme is more complex.

        While technically this _may_ be true, I am in need of realness. If you consider an electrical and a real dog the same ballpark, maybe we should all chat with Elisa? Fake photographs of countries we never visited? Blend in Lara Croft instead of a real girlfriend? Project 'scenery' on a blank wall to imitate a window? Eat wood chips with chicken flavouring? Mix together semen an

    • Re:No comparison (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Chatsubo (807023)
      You are a pile of atoms arranged a certain way. Running an adaptive neural network.

      If you make a robotic dog that looks real, and acts all happy when it sees it's owner. What makes it less real than an organic dog?
      • The mess that real dog leaves in the corner?
      • What makes it less real than an organic dog?

        It can't have robotic puppies.

      • Real dog's are nondeterministic.
        • So would be a robotic dog if it were programmed by Microsoft.

          Zing!
      • If you make a robotic dog that looks real, and acts all happy when it sees it's owner. What makes it less real than an organic dog?

        That's the exact demographic that http://www.realdoll.com/ [realdoll.com] is looking for in a customer.

    • by Savage-Rabbit (308260) on Monday January 23, 2006 @07:22AM (#14538086)
      A robot dog is a pile of parts running a program.

      At least you won't feel guilty about vivisecting your robot dog... and it is alot less messy.
    • A real dog also runs a program, although the computer is of different nature to the robot dog.
    • "A robot dog is a pile of parts running a program."

      So is a real dog, except the program is more complex.
    • A living being is much more than a bunch of 'meat components' running some complex program.

      Those who would have it otherwise seem to me like the early cosmologists who thought the solar system (and the universe in general) could be modelled by a cunning arrangement of brass cogs, spindles and gears.

      Also, I wonder at those who could possibly feel the same degree of affection and empathy towards a machine as they could with a real, flesh and blood dog, cat, horse, gerbill etc. Something wrong there, surely.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 23, 2006 @06:34AM (#14537873)
    After all, look at how much comfort and companionship a child can get from a simple teddy bear. Same concept, your imagination will create a personality for your little friend if necessary.
    • Good point, I wonder how a non-intelligent psuedo-pet compares to a more intelligent model so far as the benefits on the human psyche. Anything we associate with comfort and stability I imagine would have a strong bond with how we react to them.

      For example a favorite pair of jeans or any similar item. We're not even associating them with a living being but we still tend to personify them and cling to them as something we'd miss even if we replaced them with an identical item.
    • After all, look at how much comfort and companionship a child can get from a simple teddy bear. Same concept, your imagination will create a personality for your little friend if necessary.

      Well the same is done with most dogs, we tend to project our human traits onto them. They probably do feel emotions, such as the instinctual fear. But we tend to make them into "little humans" that are just as fragile, picturing them crying over us not being around when more likely they are licking their butt and wonderin
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 23, 2006 @06:35AM (#14537879)
    why should this effect not be understandable? when we were kids, we had plush-friends that helped us e.g. falling asleep. now having a moving, mechanic sounding fluffy battery-powered friend, that only seems to express the ongoing of industrialisation / techdom.
    i really don't wonder =)
  • My Pet (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 23, 2006 @06:36AM (#14537887)
    No robot can ever replace my pet rock!
  • by ShadowMarth (870657) on Monday January 23, 2006 @06:40AM (#14537900)
    I wonder how much an electric sheep would cost...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 23, 2006 @06:42AM (#14537906)
    And what happens when you give the patients brand new 60" LCD TVs instead? Is it really pets, or just the novelty of new toys?
    • I don't know if your post was meant to be humorous, or not, but I do therapy dog work, and there is really no comparison. TV is really a passive, dull activity, and the commercials are demeaning. In time, it becomes so monotonous, I think it actually contributes to depression -- no matter how large or spiffy the equipment it is displayed on.

      When I show up at the hospital with my dog, the TV goes off, and the patients really enjoy the novelty of interacting with a well-behaved, friendly animal. The therap
  • by Linus Sixpack (709619) on Monday January 23, 2006 @06:42AM (#14537908) Journal
    A cool new thing might make sick and old people less bored. They are people after all. A new robot would make my day!

    What happens when every institurion has its IBO? Will they be as interesting as a dog when the novelty runs out? I don't think so.

    I'd really worry about a fleet of 'entertainment' robots looking after our sick and aged. Seems like a classic setting for a robot uprising story.

    ls

  • by Zog The Undeniable (632031) on Monday January 23, 2006 @06:42AM (#14537909)
    No trainability whatsoever, and responds to four primal instincts: Sleep. Eat. Kill. Hump. In the case of male cats you can add Fight.

    Seriously, I love cats, but contrary to popular belief, they are the LEAST "spiritual" animals I know.

    • Hump? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by brunes69 (86786)
      I have never seen a fixed cat hump anything.

      And you forgot three important ones - play, purr, and cuddle. No dog is as cute as a playing cat. And my cats would be on anti-depressants if they didn't get to cuddle with someone at least once a day.

      • There's an interesting point here. Domestic cats are stuck in a kind of kitten mentality because they have been taken away from their mothers and raised by humans from an early age, which is where the playing, purring and cuddling comes from.

        The purring seems to be an instinct sparked by physical proximity more than contentment: any vet will tell you that an injured cat in severe pain will still purr, and purring doesn't necessarily indicate the cat is comfortable.

        They're amazingly "well designed" animal

    • A robot cat would also have to be able to detect those with a deep seated fear of cats and then dig their claws into them.
    • You are obviously someone who doesn't own cats.
    • Accelerando [accelerando.org]
  • Real animal (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 23, 2006 @06:44AM (#14537917)
    I do understand that not all can have a real animal.. but.. for the rest of you, theres alot of loney pets in diffrent shelters around your country, why not save one? I did, and I cant understand how attached I got to the little one, his now a part of the family. Amazing experience as I never had any animals before, and they dont require alot of maintainance either.. easyer then keeping a flower alive, as pets complain when they need food/water.. :-)
  • of course (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Janek Kozicki (722688) on Monday January 23, 2006 @06:44AM (#14537918) Journal
    of course robot pets will work, just like teddy bear [google.com] works. And is much cheaper.
  • Drinking Bird (Score:2, Insightful)

    by giafly (926567)
    I once owned a drinking bird [rotten.com], but I can't say I noticed any health benefits from my robot pet.

    I prefer plants instead as they are easy to care for and bring real health benefits [google.co.uk].
  • by sczimme (603413) on Monday January 23, 2006 @06:45AM (#14537921)

    But there are some places where they can't live, such as nursing homes. So can a robot pet provoke the same reactions?

    Not to nitpick, but this is not always true. I have an elderly relative in a nursing home, and the home itself has a canine companion. (However, I can see how it would be difficult/impossible for individual residents to have pets.)

    Second, the effects of Animal Assisted Therapy [google.com] are well known. It makes sense that a replicant (like the Aibo) that offers a subset of relevant canine functionality could offer a subset of the health benefits as well.

    • Wouldn't an Aibo be an automaton instead of a replicant?
    • Second, the effects of Animal Assisted Therapy [google.com] are well known. It makes sense that a replicant (like the Aibo) that offers a subset of relevant canine functionality could offer a subset of the health benefits as well.

      I agree. I have a therapy dog. We visit hospitals once or twice per month. The therapists insist that the effect we have on patients is sometimes amazing and long-lasting. Naturally, I would have a preference for a real animal, but I see no reason why a robotic pet wouldn't provi
  • in the future, sony's aibo will spy on it's owners for playing copied DVD's and CD's... it will then use it's wifi to connect to your access point and let it's evil master sony know what you are doing... but really, who has $2k to blow on some pice of crap, robosapien kicks ass anyday!
  • by Max Threshold (540114) on Monday January 23, 2006 @06:55AM (#14537969)
    "Seal Type Mental Commit Robot Paro"

    That's exactly what I would have called it. Yep...

    Play with it long enough, and you get committed.

  • by sticks_us (150624) on Monday January 23, 2006 @06:59AM (#14537986) Homepage
    ...by woody allen (in Sleeper)

    "...and after you've moved into your permanent home, you'll enjoy mechanized servants. Until then, you can have a computerized dog."

    [rags the robot dog, in computer voice] Woof. Woof. Woof. Hello, I'm Rags.

    [woody allen] Is he housebroken, or will he be leaving little batteries all over the floor?
  • by cherokee158 (701472) on Monday January 23, 2006 @07:08AM (#14538024)
    I have yet to see a robot dog that can follow my kid down the stairs, eating every single potato chip he drops.

    Why spend hundreds of dollars on a anthropomorphic toaster by Sony with a crap warranty when you can own a miracle of millions of years of evolution that will last up to 15 years for next to nothing?

  • Well, duh! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MoThugz (560556) on Monday January 23, 2006 @07:08AM (#14538027) Homepage
    They don't get sick, thus don't have vet fees amounting to hundreds a year (if not thousands). They don't pee, they don't shit. They don't cause lawsuits from the paper boy who just got his gonads chewed. And you can silent a yapping robot pet by taking out its batteries and not get the SPCA on your ass.

    So hell yeah... robot pets are definitely better than those damn pesky biological ones!
    • Sure!

      Other 'advantages' include...

      They don't give you affection, or warmth, or interaction, or any meaningful eye contact.

      They don't bark, mew or squeek at you in an upredictable way.

      They don't display odd moods, bouts of energy or lethargy, or sudden bursts of totally mad sillyness, like most real animals do.

      They don't form relationships with each other, or breed.

      Maybe all of these things could be simulated, but it doesn't matter. If you have any empathy with living creatures at all, then you could see the
    • They don't get sick, thus don't have vet fees amounting to hundreds a year (if not thousands). They don't pee, they don't shit. They don't cause lawsuits from the paper boy who just got his gonads chewed. And you can silent a yapping robot pet by taking out its batteries and not get the SPCA on your ass.

      So hell yeah... robot pets are definitely better than those damn pesky biological ones!


      They don't get bitchy, thus don't have dinner and theatre events amounting to thousands of dollars a year. They don't w
  • Blue Screen of Death (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    How much stress relief is your robot pet going to give you when he gets the blue screen of death?

    At one time, a toy store had a clearance sale on those Virtual Pets, those things with the little LCD screen you hang around your neck, and feed and take care of, for like $1 a piece. Cut little pixelated pandabear. I was like, whoa!, awesome bargain, I figured I could give them to little kids I saw and brighten their day. I bought 20 of them. Came with battery and everything, all you had to do was pull out
  • by Saggi (462624) on Monday January 23, 2006 @07:11AM (#14538039) Homepage
    When I come home I turn on my computer. I browse a bit. Read slashdot. Checkup on a few online strategic games to see how things are going, update my website, code a bit...

    All these actions are to make me feel alive. To puzzle with tiny bits in my life. A dog, cat, fish etc. would be the same.

    When I was a child I had an aquarium. I could look at it. I needed to feed the fish. Sometimes I had to clean it up. It usually took several hours but was quite fun. Other times I bought a new fish and put into the tank.

    We also had a dog. It was always happy to see me. It greeted me when I came from school. I hated when it was my turn to go out with it, especially when the weather was bad, but that's a part of life.

    And now I pet my computer. It do make me feel happy. Time goes by. I have something to do.

    Maybe it's not about the pet... maybe it's about having something (slightly) useful to do when we come home from a long day at work. Something relaxing. Something to take our minds away from work and into idle mode... just maybe.

  • Why, I still am rewarded with bleated beeps of love and affection from my faithful Petster [aliceww.com] each and every day! ...I just hope Duracell continues to produce "C" cell batteries.

    ~jeff
  • I robot pet could never replace my cats. Never.
  • Kittens! ^_^ (Score:3, Interesting)

    by lisaparratt (752068) on Monday January 23, 2006 @07:29AM (#14538109)
    Wake me up when they build a cuddly robotic kitten, that will ride around on my shoulder being cute at people for the rest of eternity!
  • I hope I can get it [wikipedia.org] in my apartment without the landlord seeing it. We aren't allowed to have pets, but the girl that lives next door has a goldfish, so wtf? I can just see me and my Dalek going out jogging through the park with the rest of the pet owners on a saturday morning. Seeing that cuddly Dalek with a big smile on it's face not knowing which poodle to exterminate first is just sheer joy I tell you. We live joyous lives through our pets.
  • by ettlz (639203) on Monday January 23, 2006 @07:44AM (#14538175) Journal

    From the PARO Q&A section [paro.jp]:

    Q: How did Paro get its name?
    A: There are three reasons.
    (1) Paro comes from Personal Robot
    (2) "Pa", an explosive sound that is easy to remember

    Ai-ai-ai!

  • by digitaldc (879047) on Monday January 23, 2006 @07:46AM (#14538187)
    Something that will never be duplicated by a robot is a pet's personality and individual look.

    Most all these robots look and act the same, its fun for a week and then it is just another gadget.
  • http://www.steelersfever.com/video/agpsc.wmv [steelersfever.com]

    Try getting your pet robot to do that! LOL
  • The argument is that robot pets can generate some of the same responses as real pets, just at a much smaller degree. No one is arguing they are "Almost as Good as" real pets.
  • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Monday January 23, 2006 @08:35AM (#14538408) Journal
    This is not supposed to be a replacement for your dog/cat/baby seal (to cute!) but as a substitute for people who can't have a real one.

    That "pets" fake or real are good for you is without debate. From a teddy bear to a dog they make us feel secure and give us something to care for. Yet in a way these pets are still a replacement, you don't give a toddler a real pet to take off so you give them a teddy bear instead. If you cannot or do not want to have kids a dog can be used as a replacement.

    So why is it stupid to use more robotic teddy bears for older people who need something that reacts. Sure there are well established projects that bring real pets into the lives of the sick or the elderely but this is still out of reach of some people.

    Allergies are the simplest reason. What if the patient simply can handle real animals. Should they live in complete isolation?

    What if a patient is mentally incapable of dealing with a real pet. A patient prone to uncontrolled rage or just uncontrolled movement in general would be hell on the pets. A robot doesn't mind being flung across a room or being severly beaten.

    And what of the other way around? Pets bite. Do you really want a bleeder to be around a real bet wich bites and scratches?

    I also seen some experiments where mentally disabled people dealt with robots better then with humans. A robot is never moody never changes it pattern. I forgot the name but one mental handicap makes it very hard for its sufferers to deal with emotion in other people. A robot cat would always react exactly the same making interaction a lot easier for them.

    I see this as a very nice tech solution to a problem with no bad side effects. No real dogs and cats won't be replaced for those who can take proper care of them. Yet for those who can't because it would be bad for the human or the pet this provides an alternative.

    On the other hand, we should not see this as an excuse to deny people real pets. Why exactly do a lot of homes for the elderly deny them their pets? Oh sure I know the reasons, they just don't seem very good ones. Then again I never vote for the guy offering the biggest taxcut.

    • I forgot the name but one mental handicap makes it very hard for its sufferers to deal with emotion in other people. A robot cat would always react exactly the same making interaction a lot easier for them.

      Were you thinking of autism? Autism is well known for its "sufferers" (how much you suffer depends on your level of it. It's been theorized that autism is the diseased end of a spectrum) having very little social skills.
  • by gadlaw (562280) <`gilbert' `at' `gadlaw.com'> on Monday January 23, 2006 @08:42AM (#14538465) Homepage Journal
    Japan has it right with this. Their robotic technology is getting better all the time and robo pets are developing among a population which seems to be willing to accept them. If only for the mental health benefits this can only be seen as a plus. Companionship without the moral responsibility at least for those who are otherwise unable to take care of a pet any longer because of age or infirmity. People who are otherwise unable to maintain relationships for other reasons because of mental or development problems are another group this can actually benefit. There is a human need for companionship and interaction and this sort of thing seems to be a good evolution toward fulfilling that need.


  • A robot != a living thing.

    PERIOD.

    If you think it does, then you are not sane.
  • With conventional pets, I doubt we'll ever see the headline "Viginia Nursing Home Massacre: What Went Wrong?"

    -Eric

  • A living pet is better. When I pick a puppy, I look for a feisty dog. My dog Molly was a boxer/pointer mix. Have you ever seen that movie Air Bud? She came pretty close to that.
    She could play frisbee, she could catch tennis balls. My kids would hit tennis balls to her and she would catch them and bring them back to the kids to hit the ball out again.
    Also, I taught how to be a soccer goalie by first securing here to the center of the goal and teaching her to block the ball. Eventuall she played with be
  • Once I had a dog. One time I rolled off my bed while I was sleeping, and fell on my dog. I spooked him. He bit me (HARD), and he gave me four very nice holes in my head. Still have the scars. I wanted to crush my dog's head with a reverse jaws of life. I have a pond in my backyard. Once, my dog fell through the ice of the frozen pond. I had to jump in and save him, and I almost got stuck myself. I wanted to choke the doggy life out of him. These are the short versions, and I've had other dogs
  • So I don't need Relacore [relacore.com]?

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