THERE were many things I expected to learn and experience at The International Federation of Ageing 13th annual global conference in Brisbane, but falling in love with a fluffy, white, baby toy seal lying cutely and sedately on a stallholders desk was not top of the list.
But there it was and it looked so soft and cuddly and helpless and innocent, I warmed to it immediately and with that I smiled and before I knew it I was holding the little handful securely in my arms and gently patting the dear little thing's back. Yes, within minutes of holding the inanimate creature "it' had transformed from a lifeless toy into something that could be referred to as a, "dear, little thing." And as a 'dear little thing', I felt a very human affection. Especially when the 'dear little thing," cooed in response to my soothing words, I felt his flippers do a sort of little clap and its furry round face looked up and let me see me those soft, black blinking eyes..
This was my first real human interaction with a robot and quite honestly, it had a very positive effect upon me. (Yes, I am a little embarrassed to say this because it may reveal something odd about me - but it is truth).
My sort of lov'in feel'in was the precise type of emotion Professor Takanori Shibata, a researcher at Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology and developer of PARO, The Therapeutic Robot hoped would be elicited from the hearts and minds of future pet robot owners.
The goodness of PARO the robot is being further evidenced in university studies, where dementia patients have shown significant increase in levels of wellbeing. The three year study project commenced in 2014 and is being led by Professor Wendy Moyle from Griffith University, Brisbane.
PARO's artificial intelligence includes a Posture Sensor which means PARO likes to be hugged, his battery charger is shaped like a dummy and plugs into his mouth. He hears voices and remembers his name.
And so I ask after my first robotic encounter: "What's not to love"
Hmmm, perhaps the $7000.00 asking price could be one answer, but then I am told that one must remember that PABO has no weekly food bills, vet costs or indeed clothing needs. And I doubt very much if he would growl at you, question your choices or demand a walk on the beach.
Seems there's a lot to be said for a companion robot.
I laughed when I saw the fluffy, white toy seal on the desk.