What a year we've had this week.
— shauna (@goldengateblond) May 19, 2017
— Mike Murphy (@mcwm) September 20, 2018
In my experience, dogs can be briefly fooled by fake dogs — objects that look like dogs, or sufficiently sophisticated dog-sounds audio — but even the fairly dumb dogs aren’t fooled for long by something that doesn’t smell like a dog, because smell is the sense in which dogs put their faith.
Humans, on the other hand… well, in some ways we’re easier to fool, because we trust our sometimes-treacherous minds more than we do the evidence of our senses. So I basically agree with Kevin Drum, at Mother Jones, when he says that “Robot Puppies Will Soon Be Man’s Best Friend”:
Sony ended production of its robot dog, Aibo, more than a decade ago, but now it’s back and better than ever…
When I talk to people about artificial intelligence, the most common pushback has to do with emotion and sociability. Sure, maybe robots will be better than us at driving cars or doing taxes, but they’ll never replace a conversation with friends or provide any kind of emotional support. A robot brain just can’t do this.
I couldn’t agree less…
… [W]e’re more easily fooled on emotional matters than other things. Geoffrey Fowler is an adult, and knows perfectly well that Aibo is just a hunk of silicon that’s programmed with a few tricks to seem sort of doglike. But he found Aibo adorable anyway. I’ll bet elderly folks who don’t get much company would too. So would I if they made a cat version. And that’s despite the fact that even the 2.0 version of Aibo is obviously very, very limited. But give it another ten years and we’ll barely be able to tell Aibo apart from the real thing…
Actually, I suspect that 2028 robot dogs will be easy to distinguish from their “real” (wetware) counterparts, because what humans are really good at is coming up with ways to ‘personalize’ everything around us. And in some ways, having cybernetic pets to display exactly our most personal specifications of the Ideal Dog will be a boon to the old-school biology-based canines. There will be far less incentive for foolish people to adopt a puppy from the latest fashionable breed (Cocker spaniels! No, Irish setters! No, Chihuahuas — wait, French bulldogs!), only to neglect or abandon the poor thing because it doesn’t stay small and cute, and it doesn’t come with an off switch. And there will be less pressure on breeders to select for exaggerated physical features that inexorably lead to unhealthy, miserable animals (German shepherds with crippling hip dysplasia, Borzois with epilepsy, Cavalier spaniels with heart problems). Tomorrow’s celebrities will be able to order a turquoise-blue, purse-sized robo-Yorkie with inset rhinestones… or a mechanical direwolf-lookalike with laser eyes and fullbody tattoos to match its owner’s ink. There will still be old-fashioned biological dogs — certainly purebreds, and probably a (hopefully much smaller) population of mixed-breeds and rescues, because biology is frequently stronger than human ingenuity. Heck, some people will probably have both ‘live’ dogs and robopets… and, knowing people, some of us will cherish our silicon-based ‘toys’ as fiercely, if not in the same way, as we do our ‘real’ pets!