Rise Of The Robopets
How It Works|Issue 113

Could the future for man’s best friend be more chrome than canine?

Scott Dutfield

During the 1990s and early 2000s, digital or robotic pets were at the top of most children’s Christmas lists. From the pocket-sized Tamagotchi to the spirited Furby, these toys gave us a glimpse of what we could expect from developers in the future. Since our interests were piqued over 20 years ago, the idea of a robotic pet has far surpassed the realm of being just a toy, with many having become a functional and useful piece of technology. Earlier this year at the CES exhibition in Las Vegas, Sony showcased their latest recreation of the 90s hit robot dog, Aibo. Almost unrecognisable compared to its original form, the new Aibo is arguably the most technologically advanced robotic pet on the market. Jam-packed with sensory, locomotive and automated technology, this robot dog has raised an important question: Could our animal companions ever be replaced by robots?

CREATING A COMPANION

When it comes to robotic animals, there is a significant difference between what is a toy and what you could truly consider a pet. One key difference lies in their level of autonomy and accompanying artificial intelligence (AI). The majority of robopet toys of the 90s and 2000s had been programmed with limited abilities. They could give a set response to sounds or be controlled remotely by their user to follow commands. Therefore it’s hard to imagine that the unique characteristics of our beloved pets could ever be reproduced in a robotic alternative. However, with the introduction of AI to life-imitating pets, their ability to learn and develop a ‘personality’ could make them much more than just a toy.

Hollywood blockbusters often associate artificial intelligence with androids determined to overthrow the human race. However, the fundamentals of AI aren’t malevolent. At its core, AI is simply the ability for a computer program or robot to carry out tasks that humans would associate with intelligence. Examples of AI could include the ability to learn from experiences, solve problems or recognise individuals based on voice or facial analysis.

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