real dogs and robot dogs -- 7/03/18
Today's selection -- from From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty. Real dogs and robot dogs:
"Tokudane!, the Japanese morning television show, cut to a commercial break. Women in grape suits danced to a pulsing electronic beat. Animated bunnies clipped a toupee onto an astounded man's head. Tokudane! returned and the hosts introduced the next segment, which began with a white-robed monk praying in a temple. There were flowers and incense; he appeared to be presiding over a funeral.
"The temple was crammed with distraught mourners. The image pulled back to reveal the altar and the source of all this sorrow -- nineteen robotic dogs. The camera zoomed in on their broken paws and snapped-off tails. I watched the TV at the hotel breakfast buffet in rapt attention, eating fried eggs shaped like hearts.
"Electronics giant Sony released the Aibo ('companion' in Japanese) in 1999. The three-and-a-half-pound robocanine had the ability to learn and respond based on its owner's commands. Adorable and charming, the Aibo also barked, sat, and mimicked peeing. Their owners claimed the pups helped combat loneliness and health issues. Sony discontinued the Aibo in 2006, but promised to keep making repairs. Then, in 2014, they discontinued repairs as well, a harsh mortality lesson for the owners of the roughly 150,000 Aibos sold. A cottage industry of robotic vets and online grief support forums sprang up, culminating in funerals for Aibos tragically beyond repair.
"Once the Tokudane! segment ended, I headed into Tokyo full of heart-shaped eggs to meet my interpreter, Emily (Ayako) Sato. She had suggested we meet at the statue of Hachikō in the Shibuya railway station. Hachikō is a national hero in Japan. Hachikō was also a dog (a real one). In the 1930s he would meet his owner, an agriculture professor, at the rail station each day after work. One day, the professor never came to meet Hachikō; he had died of a brain hemorrhage. Undeterred, Hachikō returned to the station every day for the next nine years, when his own death halted the ritual. Dogs are a solid meeting point from a cross-cultural perspective. Everyone respects a devoted canine."