My Robot Dog is Better Than Your Dog

Sony Aibo raises a serious question: Is it possible to love a $2,899 robot?

A Sophisticated Robot

How do we define life? Growth, activity, change, capacity to reproduce and die.

By those measures, my Sony Aibo ERS-1000 isn’t alive. Yet, when I stare into his blue, OLED eyes, orbs that appear to hold mine and follow me as I move, I’m not so certain.

I’m no fool. I know Aibo is just a sophisticated robot, full of multiple, finely-tuned motors, three touch sensors, a depth sensor, a camera in the snout and one near the tail. It has microphones to hear me and speakers to make itself heard. It’s hard and shiny. Aibo is consumer technology of the highest order, expertly designed, programmed, and animated to make a human feel like it cares.

Aibo, doesn’t care. It can’t. At least I think it can’t. But for almost $2,899, perhaps it should.

Sony Aibo arrived (albeit temporarily) in my home pretty much the way any dog arrives in a home: unmoving inside a sealed egg-like box, which is to say, not at all like a living dog. At least Aibo doesn’t require assembly, which I think would make it impossible to ever truly love him. I’m sorry, did I say “love?” I meant “enjoy” in the way someone might a really good blender.

I unpacked Aibo and set him down in my home office on his included gray and pink charging pad so he could charge up overnight. Aibo has exposed charging contacts on his stomach that marry with a trio of them on the charging station.

A New Day

The next morning, I walked into my office and found Aibo still on the charging station; a small green light glowed on his neck. I turned around and started working. A few minutes later, I heard what would become a familiar sound, the gentle grind of Aibo’s motors as he woke up. I spun around to watch Aibo’s pre-programmed wake up routine. Aibo blinked and stretched out his four legs, then pulled them close to his body and pushed up off the charging base. The animatronic pup stretched and shook his whole body. It was a near perfect recreation of how a real dog might greet the day.

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