February 28, 2008
Doggie Robot Cheers Old Folks Almost As Well As Real Dog

Being a DNA-based life form chauvinist I do not like this result.

To test whether residents connected better with Sparky or Aibo, researchers divided a total of 38 nursing home residents into three groups. All were asked questions to assess their level of loneliness. One group saw Sparky once a week for 30 minutes, another group had similar visits with Aibo, and a control group saw neither furry nor mechanical critter.

During visits, Marian Banks, Banks’ wife and co-researcher, brought Sparky or Aibo into a resident’s room and placed the pet companion near the resident. Both pets interacted with residents -- wagging their tails and responding to the people they visited.

After seven weeks, all residents were asked questions about how lonely they felt and how attached they were to Sparky or Aibo.

The residents who received visits from real and artificial pooches felt less lonely and more attached to their canine attention-givers than those who got visits from neither.

There was no statistical difference between whether the real or robotic dog did a better job easing loneliness and fostering attachments.

I would just plain refuse to have my heart warmed up by a visit from Aibo. Get that crude excuse for a silicon-based life form out of here.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 February 28 09:36 PM  Robots Pets

Vincent said at February 28, 2008 10:19 PM:

You might change your tune once you get accustomed to life in a nursing home. Especially if it was a choice between Aibo and nothing.

David Govett said at February 28, 2008 11:08 PM:

I suspect that the older the master, the friendlier the pet seems.

Wolf-Dog said at February 29, 2008 9:37 AM:

The ending of the Blade Runner movie was quite remarkable. So far the artificial dog was not sufficiently real looking. But how about the clone of the real dog? Would that cloned dog have the same soul, or any soul at all?

Nick G said at February 29, 2008 11:45 AM:

Randall, keep in mind that this was a very, very small study. Differences that were statistically significant would have to be pretty big. IOW, don't be discourage, I bet there was a real difference.

Brock said at February 29, 2008 12:16 PM:

I think this is the first FuturePundit post I've ever laughed at. But I'm totally with Randall on this one.

Bob Badour said at March 3, 2008 9:12 AM:


I am shocked that you missed the real import of this article: cognitive decline with aging. It's sad to think that someday, locked up in a warehouse for old people, we might not be able to tell the difference between a warm furry loving creature and a plastic toy from Japan.

We need brain rejuvenation therapies before it's too late. ;)

TTT said at March 3, 2008 12:01 PM:

It is thus safe to conclude that a lifelike yet robotic stripper might be just as enjoyable as a real one. The emotional connection is not there, nor should it be. It is mere short-term entertainment, usually made better or worse by how much effort the stripper puts into pretending to like the customer.

I don't believe that robots will replace actual relationships in the forseeable future, but I do believe that a robotic stripper could displace real ones.

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