If you could buy a robotic puppy that was indistinguishable from a real puppy except that it didn’t eat, drink and go to the bathroom, would it be as satisfying as having a real puppy? This is probably theoretically, because I don’t know if they could ever invent a robot puppy that smelled like a real puppy, but let’s imagine they could. One that felt, smelled, sounded and looked just like a real puppy. I’m assuming people don’t taste their pups, but roboticists could add that feature too if needed. If this imaginary puppy was a bundle of energy, friskiness, that squirmed and played, licked and nuzzled, just like a real little doggie, would you want one?
Recently I read that a growing statistical segment of young women are choosing to buy small dogs rather than have babies. Small dogs and puppies trigger our gotta-love-the-baby response, so many people find puppies a good substitute to love. What if what we liked about puppies is having this baby love button pushed, and what if a robotic puppy pushed the button equal to a real puppy? If a robot puppy triggered your need to love something cute, and it felt like it loved you unconditionally, like the way we want dogs and small children to love us, would it fulfill your needs so you no longer needed a real baby or real puppy?
Recently in Great Britain they conducted a survey asking people if they’d have sex with a robot. Imagine being able to buy an android that looked exactly like the movie star you find most sexually attractive. Would you bother dating if such a robot took care of all your emotional, sexual and conversational needs?
The Japanese are working on robots to be caretakers for the elderly. If you were old, and living alone and your children didn’t visit much, or not at all, and you couldn’t get out much, would you find a robot good company?
In all these cases I have to ask: What is real? If we can trick our brain so we satisfy its need for cuteness, receiving and giving love, sex and companionship, will we feel it’s real enough? I’ve been thinking about getting a puppy, but when I think about how many times I’m going to have to watch it poop & pee, or take it for a walk, I tell myself I’m crazy. But on the other hand, I’d feel that if it didn’t poop & pee that I’d be missing out on the real experience.
There’s a vast difference between current robotic puppies and real pups.
But what if a robot puppy was as cute and cuddly, warm and fuzzy, wiggly and smelly, as a real puppy, would my brain not urge me to pick it up and play with it? What if it was an intelligent as a dog, could learn, and was as self-aware as a dog? Would it be easier to love a robot if we thought the robot could feel our love?
Little children will play with dolls and stuffed toys for hours as substitutes for babies and animals. Adults will read books, watch television shows and movies, and play video games that simulate reality no better than current robotic dogs. Drug addicts will seek out their drug of choice to replicate sensations, moods, emotions and feelings they can’t find in real life. Many people eat junk food rather than real food. We’re already quite used to fooling ourselves.
Obviously, we’re creatures with urges, appetites, impulses and desires that can be fooled by substitutes for what evolution originally programmed us to seek out. And what explains our desire for work that has no relationship with nature. Why will some people spend hours doing mathematics? In other words, we have created new, novel, and unnatural forms of stimulus to occupy our brains.
I write this essay to contemplate why I desire certain inputs and stimulus for my brain. If you love puppies, have you ever wondered why?
JWH – 6/30/14