We're in for a wild ride. Exponentially accelerating technological, cultural, and socioeconomic evolution means that every year will see more developments than the previous one. More change will happen between now and 2050 than during all of humanity's past. Let's explore the 21st century and ride this historic wave of planetary transition with a confident open mind.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Robot Pets Help the Elderly

Move over cats and dogs. The equivalent of a crazy cat lady of the future is likely to be one with a multitude of specially designed robotic assistants. As of 2009, Japan is full speed ahead in creating a manufacturing base for robotic companions that will help the elderly with psychological well being, household chores, staying in touch with loved ones, staying physically fit, mobility, providing endless entertainment, and even assisting out on the street. The average age of all major industrial countries is constantly rising. The wave of post-war baby boomers around the world will drive demand for assistance and entertainment to levels never before seen.

As of today, many elderly rely on pets and grandkids for amusement, companionship, and feeling of empowerment through care taking. These methods are unreliable since they are mostly a one way street in terms of care. The investment into a cat in particular, might not even outweigh the psychological comfort of cuddling with it and enjoying its chaotic willful behavior. There is the constant expense of acquiring food for it and the time needed for other care. Dogs offer the increased health benefit of getting the elderly outside for walks. Many dogs however, consume even more food and the walks can be a drain occasionally.

The robotic companions that are about to be mass marketed create a two way mutually beneficial relationship with the elderly. They can: help remember to take your medicine in right amounts, clean up around the house, play mentally stimulating games with you, update you on news events and your family, help guard your house, monitor your health levels, have direct connection to the hospital, respond to your interaction with them in hundreds of different ways, do amusing physical tricks, connect to other media devices for full entertainment experience, look and feel cuddly and fun, and be fully under one's control.

Such a relationship not only creates a financial investment superior to dogs and cats but can potentially create a bigger emotional attachment to machines. With advancement in WiFi broadband and cloud supercomputing, the robotic pets of the future will have access to endless constantly updating programming that will give a stronger illusion of consciousness compared to biological pets. First generation of early adopter cyberpet owners will undoubtedly run into a multitude of quirks and deficiencies. With time however, a 70 year old man can create a stronger emotional bond with the robotic assistant than he does with a car or a trusty rifle.

Japanese and Swedish authorities have been recently collaborating to study effects and potential of integrating multitudes of mass produced robotic companions in retirement communities and hospitals. Once government organizations begin to massively use robotics and once the rich make cyberpets into status symbols, the trend should take off culturally around the world. Unlike flesh and blood pets, robots can suggest activities and urge the owners to engage in healthier more active lifestyles. Combined with social networking, the cyberpets can link owners together socially by interest. By remembering what the owner likes, they would increasingly behave and cater to that preference. With voice recognition growing in leaps, cyberpets can even help finish the owner's train of thought if he or she stops mid-sentence.

By no means should cats and dogs be replaced since cyberpets can not only co-exist with their fleshy counterparts but even make real pet ownership more enjoyable. Cyberpets can make cat/dog ownership easier through caretaking/feeding/cleanup and can engage with fleshy pets in playful activities to extend the pets' lifespans and functioning. The cyberpets of tomorrow will be covered with durable soft synthetic exterior that is pleasant and warm to the touch. Their fur will not shed easily and would be replaceable according to one's aesthetic desires. We can't even begin to imagine the rise in quality of life when watching, say, a blue furred purring robotic lemur interact with your cat. Especially if the robotic lemur sings the oldies like Nirvana, vacuums the floor, informs you of your portfolio investments, and uplinks live video feed to television from your friends and family.

Having said that, can see a future drop in demand for real pets begin to occur. There's the environmental consideration of using a lot of chemicals and fertilizer to grow animal feed for animals used in cat/dog food. Using real tuna and fish bits in cat food might seem like a silly luxury a couple of decades from now. In Japan, increasingly there are cat and dog pet cafes for those who like furry animals but don't want to have them at home. Pet cafes and larger petting zoos allow not just a great public attraction (that generates revenue and promotes social interaction for the whole family), but can serve as an outlet to retire one's aging pets. As elderly people pass away, their pets would have a great public retirement destination to live out the rest of their life and interact with many other animals and children. Unwanted and unadoptable pets can mingle with the healthy ones and serve a useful public service. Large petting parks of course can be tended by robotic cleanup crews that would also educate the visitors.

Pet stores are a strange business since they treat pets as a commodity yet try to not treat them as one would a farm animal before the slaughter. If the cultural construct is one where cats and dogs are to be protected, then pet stores should be discouraged legally. Too many opportunities for abuse occur in the existing gaps between for profit pet stores, farms, adoption agencies, and buyers. Rather than expanding energies and human labor to fine tune inspection and enforcement, it makes sense to restrict pet acquisition to large regulated petting zoos and cafes. As for more exotic animals, only zoos and professional research organizations should be allowed to own them and make money off them through public tours.

Robotic pets combined with smaller amounts of better bred, raised, and regulated real pets, are a good way to kick off transition period for our elderly. The sooner furry robots begin to trickle into our homes, the happier and healthier our elderly and society will be overall.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

No comments:

Post a Comment