Saturday Morning Open Thread: A (Robot) Dog to Personalize

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!

Moar Dogs (Open Thread)

The other thread is getting too long and scrolly, and I’ve got nothing, so here’s a picture of the Old Girl and New Boy to tide us over until something else comes along:

Dogs make everything better.

Evening Pup (Open Thread)

I’d started to write a post about a racist asshole GOP donor in Florida who got caught being a racist asshole, but fuck it — you can read about it here if you’re so inclined. I don’t want to waste a pixel on that racist asshole today. Here’s a Badger photo instead:

He came in wet from the rain and used my pants to wipe his muddy paws, the little shit. Open thread!

Florence: An Ongoing, Slow-Rolling Disaster

In case anyone needs a rejoinder to the ‘ha ha, stupid people who won’t get out of harm’s way’ disaster-glee…

Evacuation, like most disaster resilience actions—and really, like most of life—is easier if you have wealth, health and extensive social networks. Being able to pack up your life and leave takes privileges you may not even realize you have. Everyone is doing the best they can based on their personal context.

It takes money to displace yourself. It takes having somewhere better to go and a way to get there. Having a full tank of gas is a luxury when you live paycheck to paycheck. Spending money up front and then waiting for reimbursement requires that you have the money in the first place, while knowing what expenses are covered and how to file the paperwork requires knowledge not everyone has or has access to.

Missing shifts at work is unthinkable when every dollar counts. Some workplaces keep employees as long as legally possible, more worried about lost profits than lost lives.

Delayed evacuation carries a different risk due to the sheer number of people trying to escape on roads that can barely handle rush hour, much less a mass exodus. People can be trapped in gridlock on the roads, running out of gas—or, worse yet, still be out in the open when the storm comes and the floodwaters rise…

Vulnerable populations—immigrants, single parents, elderly, people with disabilities, people in poverty—all face unique risks. Evacuating depletes community support during a diaspora, a frightening prospect when the people around you are essential to your survival. It increases stress on elderly, sometimes with fatal consequences: clearing out retirement and homes can actually kill their residents. Yet staying in place and suffering through mass infrastructure failures can do the same thing.

People with disabilities, injuries or illness may require specialized equipment to survive. Without a custom vehicle or assistance from others, it may be literally impossible to evacuate…

People impacted by disasters need you to have empathy. They need you to advocate for preparing for the next disaster while still recovering from this one. They need your support, whether it’s in the form of cash donations; voting for politicians with the integrity to vote for spending money on mitigation before the next disaster rather than on relief afterward; or even sending them cute animal pictures to cheer them up after another long day of cleaning up the mess. They need your help, not your judgement…

Read more

Sunday Morning Garden Chat: Point of Stillness

From inspired gardener & commentor Gelfling 545:

I took this photo at 6 am Monday when I looked out to see if the rain had started. This old boy had run out of the house the night before and this is where I found him, meditating on the transcendent…and fish.


What’s going on in your garden(s), this week?

BJ jackal readership capture — Happy note for everyone touched by the news that Adam Serwer’s cat Butters had gone missing:

Funny how you can get emotional about a companion animal you’ve never met and almost certainly never will meet…

RIP Wembley, A Very Good Dog

Long time friend of the blog TBOGG shares the news that beloved friend Wembley has bone cancer which has spread to his lungs and is leaving us.

We all know what you are going through, Tom, and our thoughts are with you. This is particularly close to me, given the events of the past year, and I am so, so sorry (while also grateful to all of you who helped keep my own pup alive). Dogs and cats should live forever.

Cats And Dogs, Living Together (by state and region)

A friend of mine from college brought this fun graph to my attention today.

It’s the ratio of households-with-at-least-one-cat to households-with-at-least-one-dog, by state and region. Click to embiggen:

(R code; raw data sourced from the American Veterinary Medical Association)

Perhaps this explains my sense that I’m meant for the northwest and northeast corners of this country. Anybody want to offer some (responsible) speculation on what this all means? And what’s the deal with Delaware?

Open thread!