• John Ennis

Eye on AI - January 14th, 2022

Welcome to Aigora's "Eye on AI" series, where we round up exciting news at the intersection of consumer science and artificial intelligence!

 

This week, we’ll be looking at the rise and benefits of cuddly AI-powered robots that help users cope with pandemic-related mental health issues.


Enjoy!


Cuddly AI Robots Help Alleviate Pandemic-Related Stress in Japan



From children experiencing developmental issues to adults experiencing cognitive decline, pandemic-related isolation has put new layers of stress on our emotional health. According to the article “Robo-dogs and therapy bots: Artificial intelligence goes cuddly cope,” many cultures, including the Japanese, have turned to AI-powered robots like Aibo the dog for support.


“Re-launched in 2017, Aibo's artificial intelligence-driven personality is minutely shaped by the whims and habits of its owner, building the kind of intense emotional attachments usually associated with kids, or beloved pets,” writes CBS News contributor Lucy Craft.

Aibo, which comes with a hefty $3000 price tag, is equipped with a camera in its snout and sensors in its paws, and learns the patterns of its owner to develop, according to creators, real emotions that help build personal relationships. For many Japanese adults, this robotic dog has been a godsend. Families have used it to help parents cope with cognitive issues like dementia, nurture COVID-threatened surgery patients back to emotional health when their loved ones are unable to see them in person, or act as a companion during times of isolation.


Aibo isn’t the only emotional support robot making waves. The furry and faceless Qoobo, which looks like a coonskin cap that wags its tail when happy, sold over 30,000 units during COVID with a more manageable $200 price tag. Paro, the oldest social robot on the market, which resembles a seal stuffed animal and coos with touch, has sold thousands of units since its creation in 1998 and has been proven to reduce depression, anxiety and pain. Then there’s the newer Lovot brand bots, which look like a furry mix of a penguin and a wookie, that can autonomously navigate their spaces on wheels, gaze out upon the world with high resolution, emotionally-filled eyes, and is currently being used by many Japanese preschools as a replacement for more traditional classroom pets like gerbils.


“Our kids think the robots are alive,’ said principal Kyoshin Kodama, who purchases a pair of Lovot robots for her pre-school in Nagoya. ‘The bots have encouraged the kids to take better care of things, be kinder to each other, and cooperate more.’”

There’s no question that robot pet adoption is on the rise, and with good reason: they work! One search on Google and you can find countless AI robot success stories. Yet despite their benefits, robot pet adoption outside of Japan has been slow. There are concerns over data and whether robots will replace actual pets. While these concerns are valid, they don’t negate the proven emotional benefits robot pets provide, particularly in cases where real pets are unavailable or unreasonable. We can and should continue looking for new benefits to robot pets. Simultaneously, we need to push for better data privacy laws to induce wider adoption.


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