Editorial: Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto
- By Tom Schaffner
What's going on? We used to be happy with simple things in life. A kid could get a football for Christmas and play with it all day long and never get bored. Nowadays, if it doesn't have a 64-bit chip in it, we don't want it. Have we been programmed to the point where machines are truly taking over every part of our lives, including our "free time?" Has the twinkling of lights, the flashy monitors and the sounds that come from the magical box fooled us all? Aaaaaaa! Soylent Green is people!!! People, I tell ya!!! (Sorry, it just seemed like a Charlton Heston moment right about there.)
And yes, I realize the irony of the above diatribe in a computer magazine.
Anyway, as all the various holidays have passed, and we all try to figure out which credit cards we can put off paying the longest, it looks like one of the hotter-selling toys this year was a clunky, electronic puppy named Poo-Chi that barks and wags its tail. It's priced at $7.99 and up, depending on which size you chose. It comes in blue, silver and the much-sought-after pink. I'll tell you, seeing two little old ladies slugging it out to get their hands on the last pink pup in a toy store made the final battle scene in "Braveheart" look like a church social. What was the attraction of this robotic creature that could make two grown women "throw down" in front of an arena of bystanders? And, this toy doesn't really do much. There's no cuddle quality. It certainly won't stay by your side and give you those pitiful eyes when you're lying on the sofa, sick with the flu. It's cold, plastic and robotic in every sense of the word. And, to make matters worse, most of these mechanized canines will probably be tossed by the wayside within the first week of use. Yet, humans bought it up in droves ... And why?
Take, the Sony Corp., for instance. In June 1999, they came out with a little robotic dog named "AIBO" (that stands for Artificial Intelligence RoBot). Even though it sold for $2,500 and had limited skills (barking, wagging its tail, and singing in Japanese and English), the first 5,000 sold off the Internet within a few days. Another 10,000 robots were offered by lottery, and, finally, a third sale honored all orders, but with a 10-day waiting period.
But, why stop there? Sony also has a developed an "entertainment robot" (the SDR-3), which stands 20 inches in height and can walk, kick and dance. Big deal. I could walk ever since I was 15 years old, and kick since I was 22 (still working on the dance part of the show). Honda Motor Co. also has their version of a human robot named "Asimo", which the company hopes can be rented out to museums, events and showrooms as an attraction. So, you mean the bearded lady just isn't cutting it anymore?
We like to brag about our toys and show them off whenever possible. But, no matter what, we always go back to what we are used to. Hey, I absolutely love having direct deposit for my paycheck. But, unless accounting gives me that piece of paper that says it was automatically placed in my account, I don't feel like I was actually paid.
Take the workplace, for example. We love our tops (desk, lap and palm), but face it: If you have a quick thought that you need to record, you'll reach for a pen and paper, as opposed to firing up your PC.
So, entering the 21st century, are we really as advanced as we think we are? Or, is it still all about who has the most toys?
As Sony states, their "purpose in developing AIBO is to bring humans and robots closer together" Humans and robots? Peace and harmony? Maybe, someday. But, by then, I'll probably wind up as a package of Poo-Chi Soylent Green myself.