Hounds of Hell
by Debbie Hill

Electronic pets are here but Debbie doesn't go for it.


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This time, Japan's corporate leaders have pushed the boundaries of taste too far. Long reputed to be the world's pioneers in robot technology Japan houses a phenomenal 58% of the world's robot population. Not content with confining these machines to the workplace, they now appear to be advocating robots for entertainment. Take AIBO, the cyber dog whose name is an acronym for Artificial Intelligence Robot. Made by Sony and launched over the internet in June of last year, all three thousand units available to the Japanese were (it is said) sold within just twenty minutes, each fetching a cool $2,500. *There is a new AIBO 2 coming out very soon that looks much tougher and has yet more features. August 2000

The techno-embracing subjects of Japan clearly welcomed these automatons with open arms. Maybe I'm just a Luddite but I have a monumental problem with the idea of a maintainable, metallic mutt replacing a real, loyal dog. Having no impulse to interact with what is essentially moving software, I can't think why anyone, aside from the emotionally inept or the most ardent computer nerds, would want to interact on an emotional level with a computer chip masquerading as a family pet .


I never h
ad a problem with the likes of Tamagochis because they are obviously games (although there are always the silly few who take them seriously) and clearly don't pretend to be something they aren't. The fact that spurious cyber pets like AIBO are being marketed as a more lifestyle friendly alternative to a real pet is where the danger lies as we move towards an ever lazier, consumer society with a minimum of responsibilities. The supposed benefits of cyber dogs - that they don't need walking, that vets bills and dog hair will be a thing of the past - are attractive only to those who haven't the capacity to be truly rewarded by the enjoyable effort a real pet requires.

It is indicative of the anti-human way society is moving, that we are becoming sufficiently emotionally devoid to develop artificial animal impostors to befriend us. As mortals, we may soon no longer possess the ability to relate to other flesh and blood, thus leading to the cuckolding of our beautiful animals in favour of the abomination that is the cyber pet. It is the horrid, logical conclusion of such advance that animals will be the guinea pigs for the inevitable virtual experiment. Like the Rat Things in Neal Stephenson's Snowcrash, animals will be part real and part computer. If we allow cyber pets to become a normal and accepted part of our culture we are treading on very unpredictable ground and endorsing a grotesque view that this earthly life is not enough.

Tatsuya Matsui, of the Kitano Symbiotic Systems Project attempts to explain the West's reservation for such creatures as AIBO with the 'alleged' comment that unlike people in the West the East, 'I don't have any Christian hang-ups about creating such mechanical creature'. But I beleive he is entirely missing the point.
I - and I am not alone in my belief that the cyber pet is an integrally repulsive concept - am not God fearing or God believing. I'm simply opposed to technological advances which might deaden society's already weakening defences against those who are blurring the distinction between the animate soul of a living creature and the manufactured existence of a byte of software.

People who want these virtual pets can have them, love them, feed them electronic food and in worryingly disturbed rituals scoop up their cyber pooh - after all who am I to suggest that people shouldn't have freedom of choice. Depressingly, it appears that with a huge mass of capital behind them and the capacity to reach some very lonely and alienated individuals, Sony may well arouse interest for these cyber pet atrocities from usually sane, white collar, 2.1 children bearing sections of the community.

I breathe, bleed and will die, and remarkably enough, want my pets to be the same. I donšt believe in programmed loyalty. I want the genuine loyalty of a pet with the potential to travel thousands of miles to return to me, as many lost animals have so touchingly done throughout history. I want to come home to a living, breathing animal that I can nurture, that needs love, not a virtual one, which needs only the maintenance of its software to keep it operating. Not a metal machine whose malfunction sends you running to the nearest computer technician. What sort of message does that send to the next generation? An electronic dog with a lifetime guarantee is not going to die and teach a child its greatest lesson - that life is sacred and to be cherished.

In this arrogant, capitalist world where we believe anything is possible, it is hardly surprising that such technological leaps are being made - after all people will pay anything to be among the privileged few who own something other people haven't got. And there are plenty of people in this world with more money than sense - as the Japanese have aptly illustrated.

It's not that I am proposing that these cyber counterfeits won't take off. I have a nasty suspicion that the higher waged public will be enticed by propaganda about the practical, educational nature of these machines, naturally bringing their cost down to a level affordable for the masses. It has recently stunned me that there are - albeit a minority - some educated, articulate people who covet these anathemas. All I can conclude is that they are intensely lonely people with too much time on their hands.

Visit the R.S.P.C.A. Go for a walk. Telephone a friend. Throw out your Nintendo. Get a life.



A response from one (allegedly wife of Prof Tatsua Matsui in Japan).
Arrived 14.08.2000
l'd like to respond to Debbie Hill's recently featured article on
Cyber pets which attributes, incorrectly, a quote from my husband, Tatsuya Matsui. The TIME magazine article which features Mr.Matsui as well as a host of others ( one of whom the offending quote is clearly attributed to) was obviously the basis of Ms. Hill's own article. One can only presume from the
'author's' ill-concealed contempt of all things Japanese that one yellow
face was as good as any when prescribing Fu-Manchu style plots against
the West by nefarious 'others'. In this case it is Japan's lead in
robot technology that so offends the subverted nationalism of Ms. Hill
who, while decrying the evils of robo-pet ownership, is in fact, more
annoyed by monied upstarts like the Japanese proving themselves too
clever by half.
If Ms. Hill had done more than merely skim read an article in question ( while moving her lips, no doubt), she might have discovered that the majority those who 'shelled out a cool $2,500' for Sony's AIBO were research laboratories.
The phenomena of robo-pets doesn't even exist.

Still, the only threat I perceive to flesh and fur Fidos doesn't come from Japan Inc. but rather pet-owners who fail to spay or neuter their pets. The consequences of which I you will find any pet shelter gulag. The irony here is that Mr. Matsui himself is at this moment the grieving parent of one such flesh and fur specimen. Our cat, Fumiya died early last month and no, Debbie, we didn't eat him,
contrary to your perceptions, perhaps about Asian culinary habits. This
may appear to be a rather brutal assessment of Ms. Hill's intentions and
integrity but such a glaring disregard for accuracy places your entire
magazine in the category of 'longwinded typists and other juvenalia'. I
will ask that you remove my husband's name from the article and replace
it with the correct one. Well, I'd love to stay and chat but I've got
the dog boiling on the stove.

J. Matsui

But I hate to correct the animal-boiling Ms Matsui but cyberpets are HUGE.
Witness PooCHi

Poochi, the interactive dog. My biorhythm determines my mood! The more you play with me, the happier I will be! I love to stand, sit and dance on my tiptoes! Widely expressive eyes show my feelings - watch my eyes! My ears, legs and mouth move to show you how happy I am! My advanced bio-rhythmic technology gives me realistic reactions and emotions. I react to light, sound and your friendly touch! Feed me my special dog bone whenever I get hungry. I speak to and interact with all my Poochi friends. I sing 6 different songs.
From Tiger Electronics. 3 AAA BATTERIES Required(not included) Ages 3 and up.
Get yours now this will be the HOT TOY of the year.
YES we ship internationaly.
(Colors are blue, pink or purple. Sorry no choice in color)

Yes get your all singing dog today. This is whatt he world needs. editor

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