Japan is quite often characterized with high end technology and the industry is wholly embraced by young and old alike. In 1999, AIBO was introduced by Sony; a pet dog made entirely of material substances. The intuitive robot pal can learn, play and bark as its state of the art technology provided a platform to own a readymade pet without the hard work. The demand was so much that 3000 units sold out within 20 minutes at a rate of $2000. The latest models had an array of sensors, microphone and could even talk.
For the older generations, it provides a far more convenient alternative to a real puppy. All the fun without the feeding, the walking or potty training means that Hideko Mori, 70, finds much more pleasure in an AIBO than anything else traditionally considered ‘alive’. “He doesn’t require feeding and he doesn’t pee… actually he does pee by cocking his leg, making an indescribably beautiful tinkling sound.” However, just like other living creatures robots also have a lifespan.
For some owners, they have the option of going to a repair shop. Hideko’s AIBO stopped working in May 2014 and she took it to A FUN, an organisation which is considered to be more of a hospital than an electronic repair store. The word ‘repair’ has no place there as the engineers are thought to be closer to veterinarians. Hiroshi Funabashi, 61, who works at A FUN explains that “those who keep AIBOs, they are nothing like home appliances. It’s obvious they think their (robotic pet) is a family member.” The sources for parts only come from deceased AIBOs as Sony had shut their program down in 2006. This leads to occasions that call for funerals as is stated by Bungen Oi, a priest at the 450-year-old Kofukuji temple in Isumi, east of Tokyo. With funerals for robots and AIBOs becoming more common he was “thrilled over the interesting mismatch of giving cutting-edge technology a memorial service in a very conventional manner.” The final respects are paid as each dog is lined up with tags showing which family they come from.
In the future, it would seem that humans are expected to become used to robotic personalities in their homes and even care for them as we would for each other. Robots that are intuitive and curious can obviously learn over a lifetime just as we do. Over time perhaps, we will start to blur the lines with robots and humans, between reality and a futuristic fiction but the fact of the matter is that they are no longer ordinary electrical devices any more.