Saturday, March 1, 2008

Dogs and Robots

Researchers have known for some time that bringing pets into nursing homes can lower residents' blood pressure and otherwise improve their health. Dogs as medication. What's new, however, is a study done at St. Louis University showing that robotic dogs can do the same thing. The robot canine Sparky, described as "charismatic," proved as good as real dogs at lowering elderly blood pressure, perking up immune systems, and "fostering attachment."

I can understand this. I have long thought that if my laptop talked to me with even a simple Eliza program, I would probably anthropomrphize it easily into being a "companion." Conversation would start the process, and imagination would do the rest. The same thing could, I suppose, happen with a fuzzy robotic dog that would follow me around, curl up on my lap, and bark at me companionably. Of course, I have a real dog that does all these things. But Cosette has the disadvantages of having to be stashed with someone when I travel, of wanting to go out at inconvenient moments, and of barking insanely at the wild animals that visit my patio at three in the morning. Whereas a robotic dog...

Better watch out, Cosette. You have competition.


Cameron Lewis said...

This rabbit hole actually goes pretty deep, and is something I keep meaning to explore in fiction. People in isolation (like, say, writers) can sometimes form intense attachments to inanimate objects, and they need not be fuzzy, cuddly, or even resemble forms we'd normally attribute some sentience to. Fascinating stuff.

bluesman miike Lindner said...

We surely all need to talk, to =communicate=, to know we have friends.

For lonely people, dogs and cats fill that need.

Here's a sad story with a happy ending. (Read it some years ago, I cannot remember where.)

An old widow, in the Southland as I recall, picked up her phone, which hadn't rung in such a long time. She was so happy! She just talked and talked with her friend...

It was a wrong number.

And at that point, the caller could have said, "Good talking with you. Bye!" And the lonely old woman might still be waiting for another call...

But the accidental caller was a sensitive woman who understood the situation. She set the old lady up with a network of "phone friends." The elderly widow has =plenty= of people to talk with now.

Pardon me while I brush a tear away (allergies, y'see).

Wealthedge said...

What Cameron and the robotic dog describe sounds a lot like Wilson in Castaway (film starring Tom Hanks). He doesn't have anyone to talk to, so he makes a new friend. Actually causes himself pain to keep the "friendship" alive. And when they are separated at sea, he has an emotional response akin to the death of a friend. Tom Hanks was banging on all cylinders in that scene.

And now I am LOVING me some Nancy Kress, because her dog is named after one of the characters in my favorite musical. (I play in a band and we actually cover A Little Fall of Rain. I sing Marius. LOVING it.)

My all-time favorite bit of music. Claude-Michel Schönberg & Alain Boublil are the best.

There's almost always a little bit of Valjean in at least one character in my stories. Deeply affected by this musical.