Is this a performance art statement about modern life? Is it a hoax? A practical joke?
But this is actually a religious ceremony, and the emotions expressed by the human participants are genuine.
A dog-shaped robot—as opposed to say, a dish on wheels with a built-in vacuum cleaner—represented a focus on entertainment and companionship. When Sony released the AIBO (short for “artificial intelligence robot”) in 1999, 3,000 units—the greater share of the first run—were sold to the Japanese market. At an initial cost of $3,000 in today’s money, those sold out in 20 minutes.
But AIBOs never became more than a niche product, and in 2006 Sony canceled production. In seven years, they’d sold 150,000 of the robots.
Some AIBO owners had already become deeply attached to their pet robots, though. And here is where the story takes an unexpected turn.
Over time, they would come to “know” their human companions, who grew attached to them as if they were real dogs. (Learn how playing games helped build the modern world.)
The AIBOs’ programs included both doggish behaviors, like tail-wagging, and humanlike actions, such as dancing, and—in later models—speech.
So when Sony announced in 2014 that they would no longer support updates to the aging robots, some AIBO owners heard a much more somber message: Their pet robot dogs would die. The community of devoted owners began sharing tips on providing care for their pets in the absence of official support.
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