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Robotic Cats and Cloned Dogs

November 18, 2005

Here is the post I promised. (Or was it threatened?)

Apparently, each year Time magazine compiles a list of the year’s best inventions. This year the top invention is Snuppy, a cloned dog in South Korea that may someday help with stem cell research. Which isn’t to say Snuppy will become a stem cell researcher. Though a dog medical researcher would be incredibly cool. It’s the cloning technique the researchers perfected that may one day be used in stem cell therapy.

Would a dog researcher be able to do seven years worth of research to their human counerpart’s one? Hey, it’s worth looking into.

What drew Your Montag’s attention to the Time article was an item that appeared yesterday on Yahoo! News (perhaps from the Associated Press?) in which was a reference to another invention allegedly on Time’s list: a robotic cat. That article seems to have gone down the memory hole since then; but Your Montag has done some bird-dogging— so to speak —and found this item on Time’s 2003 list of coolest inventions. A robotic cat…

…so lifelike in his appearance, responses and movements that Maryland “robo-therapists” Alex and Elena Libin have recommended him for nursing-home residents and dementia patients who could use a pet’s love but are unable to care for the real thing. Stroke Max with an open palm or call him by name, and he will purr, turn his head, move his ears and blink his eyes. [Emphasis added.]

If you think of love as a learned behavior based on predictable feedback and positive reinforcement, and you don’t require sense of reciprocity or shared empathy; then sure, this thing will love you. But the notion that a person can feel loved by a machine isn’t the most unbelieveable aspect of the blurb about the robotic cat. What is most unfathomable to Your Dense Montag is that this robot is considered lifelike in his appearance. (And I won’t even touch the “his” reference; as I don’t especially want to delve into either robot gender identification, or anatomy.) C’mon, look at the picture! Even Your Unobservant Montag would spot that thing for a robot within seconds! Something about the fur, and those dead eyes. Looks like the devil. (To be fair, if it were any more lifelike, I’d be really creeped out.) Please tell me that Maryland “robo-therapists” Alex and Elena Libin aren’t just cynically recommending this because they think its good enough to fool nursing-home residents and dementia patients. I guess the six-year-old-girl market can’t afford this technology.

Even better, this was the image posted next to the disappearing article on Yahoo! yesterday. Now, that’s what I’d be glad to call “lifelike!” I could probably learn to love it too, if it would purr and turn to look at me once in a while.

There is definately some super cool innovation going on. Here is my vote for this year’s coolest invention: The LifeStraw:

…a beefed-up drinking straw designed by the Swiss-based company Vestergaard Frandsen, uses seven types of filters, including mesh, active carbon and iodine, to make 185 gal. of water clean enough to drink.

And it likely won’t have to clear the political hurdles that get thrown up in front of cloning and stem cell research in the steeplechase of world-saving science.

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