Somebody needs a talking to

Today I am visiting my parents. They get The Wall Street Journal, and I saw that it had a story today on the front page entitled “When Dogs and Robots Collide, Somebody Needs a Talking To”. The gist of the story is that pets get upset at robotic entities like the Roomba vacuum cleaner, or the Pleo, a robotic toy dinosaur (by the same guy who made the Ferbie!). There was much discussion about how people convince their animal companions that these electronic contraptions are not actually threats. The lead story was about a man whose dog, apparently feeling threatened by his Roomba, kept attacking it. The man, following advice in an on-line forum, made a deliberate show of chastising his Roomba in front of the dog, and saying “Bad Roomba!” Which apparently did the trick.

There was some weird stuff in the article about people deliberately bringing strange robotic gadgets into their homes just so they could film their dogs and cats freaking out in fear or anger, and then post the results on YouTube. I found that to be really creepy. I wonder whether these people dress up in monster suits and lie in wait for their kids to come home from school so they can chase the terrified little tykes around the house and then amuse themselves by continuing to make scary noises while their traumatized children huddle, quivering and sobbing in abject terror, in the bedroom closet. Well, to give them the benefit of the doubt, I’m sure these folks would only do such a thing if it would make a good YouTube video.

But what really threw me for a loop was the last anecdote of the article. Have you ever had an experience where you’re reading about something, you’re telling yourself that there are multiple sides to every issue, and that you’re ok with that, and suddenly you realize that what you are reading is just completely and utterly looney tunes? Well, that’s kind of what happened here. After yet another story about a dog trying to adjust to a robotic Pleo toy, here’s what I read next:

Another Pleo owner, Maggie Spencer, has gone as far as to broach the idea of robot-to-robot interaction with her Roomba.

She showed the Pleo, named Linus, the vacuum in its turned-off state and warned Linus that the cleaner would make noise when it started up. “When the Roomba hit him, he was fine,” says Ms. Spencer, a Harrisburg, PA., psychotherapist. “I raise him like I did any other pet, not to be afraid of things.”

Well, I have to say that reading something like that makes me very afraid. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that this person is a psychotherapist. And I am left wondering whether the author of the article knew that this last anecdote speaks to an entirely different issue – one that is, on several levels, deeply disturbing. In any case, as the title of the article said: Somebody needs a talking to.

2 Responses to “Somebody needs a talking to”

  1. manooh says:

    Woow. I can’t believe she wasn’t only making a stupid joke. Because otherwise: woow..

  2. Zabador says:

    Well, soon love-robots for humans… I think then, love-robots for dogs.. so they need to start familiarazing ! ROTFL. I really think the girl is serious in the paper… and the world is going crazy of course 😉
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20080615/ts_afp/lifestylenetherlandstechnologylovesexrobots_080615055138

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