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Robotics Science

In Japan, Old People Talk to Robots 352

Posted by samzenpus
from the just-visit-your-grandmother dept.
stupidfoo writes "AFP is reporting that, starting today, "Japan's growing elderly population will be able to buy companionship in the form of a 45-centimeter (18-inch) robot" designed to help them avoid senility. The robot, named Snuggling Ifbot and developed by Dream Supply, will be able to respond to verbal commands. "If a person tells Snuggling Ifbot, "I'm bored today," the robot might respond, "Are you bored? What do you want to do?"". It retails for 576,000 yen (5,600 dollars) and there is no English version currently available but "its makers plan to program the robot in English -- not for export, but to teach the language to Japanese children.""
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In Japan, Old People Talk to Robots

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  • by kahei (466208) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @07:02AM (#10972747) Homepage

    Should I:

    a) Weep for the millions of human tragedies that must have taken place to lead so many to this extreme of loneliness and general patheticness, or...

    b) Laugh because it's called 'Snuggling Ifbot'?

    Eh, I'll go for b). Hee hee hee... 'snuggling ifbot'... hee hee hee...

    • I think we need to find out where the robot lobby gets their budget. We had all of those shotgun wielding, machine gun wielding robot stories. They must have become concerned that we were getting a negative impression of their intent. So now we get the warm cuddy side of robots... puhleeze. I hope we all can see through this.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 02, 2004 @07:02AM (#10972748)
    How will it push anyone down the stairs?
  • by way2trivial (601132) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @07:03AM (#10972749) Homepage Journal
    tion, why not use the thing as a giant physical IM client? when you speak to it, have it relay whatever it hears to one of it's soon to be overlord cousins, kinda at random..

    sure makes it easier to pass a turing test...

  • by koi88 (640490) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @07:03AM (#10972750)

    Sounds like a 5600$ version of Eliza.
    • by c0dedude (587568) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @07:14AM (#10972794)
      Why does it sound like a 5600$ version of Eliza?
      • by Zorilla (791636) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @07:21AM (#10972826)
        Haha, by far the funniest line I've ever heard in Dr. Sbaitso is when my brother typed in, "I CAN THROW POOP"

        Dr. Sbaitso: "CAN YOU THROW POOP FOR ME NOW?"
        • Freakiest thing that ever happened with Dr. Sbaitso was in middle school. We had it hooked up to a good pair of speakers and were making it say all sorts of things. Well one of my friends typed something bad and attempted to cover the speakers with his hands. Dr. Sbaitso replied "Get your hands off of me!" Needless to say we promptly backed away then turned off the system.
      • Please tell me more...
      • by waterbear (190559)
        Why does it sound like a 5600$ version of Eliza?

        Old people often have failing memories and need tools that remind them of specifics. One thing they would need above all out of a machine like this (if they can get over the shock of the idea of looking to a machine for this kind of help anyway) would be intelligent prompting, with specific words or items that they are likely to have forgotten.

        I agree the description makes this robot sound like an expensive 'Eliza'. If reflecting and being vague rather th
        • Old people often have failing memories and need tools that remind them of specifics. One thing they would need above all out of a machine like this (if they can get over the shock of the idea of looking to a machine for this kind of help anyway) would be intelligent prompting, with specific words or items that they are likely to have forgotten.

          Is it because would be intelligent prompting with specific words or
          items that they are likely to have forgotten that you came to me?

          I agree the description makes th

        • Old people often have failing memories and need tools that remind them of specifics.

          What I should have said to be more specific, is that the failure often is about _recall from memory_. External supply of a specific prompt, maybe sometimes a single word, can trigger recall and release of a flood of associated momories, often very valuable ones.

          I've sometimes wondered why 'Eliza' can have any ring of plausibility at all, as it can seem to have in spite of its obvious defect of emptiness. Maybe it is tha
      • To all of us longing for the cheaper version:

        http://www-ai.ijs.si/eliza/eliza.html

    • Can you elaborate on that?
    • $5600? But you can buy a RealDoll for that! :)
    • pr A.L.I.C.E. Almost got her to do some kinky stuff for me once.
    • Yeah, my first thought was, "they put Doctor/Eliza in a can."

      Now, if they can add some pattern *creation* then they'll have something really special.

      Person: I'm bored.
      Robot: You enjoy talking with $FRIEND. You two haven't visited in several weeks. Maybe $GOOD_TIME would be a good time to telephone him/her today.

      Person: I'm bored.
      Robot: What would you like to do? You enjoy playing go. Do you know someone who would like to play today?

      or even:

      Person: I'm bored.
      Robot: Have you cleaned the kitchen
  • by deletedaccount (835797) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @07:03AM (#10972752)
    Great name to go senile with. That's the kind of name I want around when I'm 85 and dribbling, "you seen the snuggling ifbot today son?"
    • Dream Supply passed up a golden opportunity to name it Mr. Roboto.

      Robot (sounding like Ned on South Park): Errrmm..... nice job on quiz.

      Elderly Owner: Oh, domo arigato, Mr. Roboto!

  • I am not a doctor (Score:2, Insightful)

    by nick korma (836538)
    but how could this possibly be used to combat the onset of senility?? I can understand how the robot could be used to teach children or adults another language but old people telling the ipod that they are bored will not do anything to stop them forgetting where they live or where they left the car...
  • We hacked tham all to convince them they are mad, and to place all thier assets in our care!

    Ooops, scarey thought, what if someone actually did this? Robo identities with an ulterior motive!

    What if someone goes senile, and leaves all thier assets to the robot?

    Come to think of it, why did I think this was funny... more like insightful!

    *adjust ancient-korean tinfoil hat*
  • by Max Romantschuk (132276) <max@romantschuk.fi> on Thursday December 02, 2004 @07:05AM (#10972764) Homepage
    I decided way back that if technology allowed I'd want a virtual persona (themed like "Jeeves" in the English TV series) to keep track of things for me.

    I'd love to be able to just look at any screen in the appartment and ask what I was supposed to do today, ask if there are any interesting news etc. A computer won't get bored with you asking for the nth time, and can alert someone if you don't take your medicine. If technology allows, why burden our children? They can come over to visit instead of taking care of you.

    I'm not sure I'd want a robot though. Face-in-the-TV is more my style. Think Max Headroom, only with class ;)
  • In Japan... (Score:5, Funny)

    by tintub (733763) <slashdot@rainsfo ... g minus language> on Thursday December 02, 2004 @07:06AM (#10972771)
    In Japan, sanity is talking to a robot called Snuggly Ifbot :-/
  • Why am I alone?

    Why do you think you are alone?

    Yes, but you are not alive though are you?

    What makes you think that?

    You are alive? OMG, what did they do to you?

    Tell me more about why you think you are alone.

    But you just said you are alive.

    What makes you think I just said I was alive?

    AAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh.

    Lets watch tv and have some fun!
  • Great. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by CosmeticLobotamy (155360) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @07:12AM (#10972790)
    "If a person tells Snuggling Ifbot, "I'm bored today," the robot might respond, "Are you bored? What do you want to do?"

    Whew. Thanks, Ifbot. You solved that problem. I don't know what I would have done without you.
    • Re:Great. (Score:3, Interesting)

      by metlin (258108) *
      Funny, after watching Ghost in the Shell: Innocence, am not too sure about what people would do with these kinda robots.

      On one hand, it's sad that people need robots to talk to, rather than each other. On the other hand, this is eerily reminiscent of Solaria in Asimov's books.

      Oh wait, wasn't Solaria itself modeled on the Emperor-ruled Japan? Looks like some cultural influences never leave, they merely come to haunt the people in different disguises.
  • Japans "CareBots"... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DoktorTomoe (643004) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @07:18AM (#10972811)
    Having done some research (I hold a masters degree in Japanese), I recall there was also a project that had some kid of one-button Instant Messenger in a teddy bear.

    The Idea was that elders spoke to the teddy, who tried to convert their word to written language. This was transferred to a central station, where social workers read them on monitor, and replied (e.g. answering questions). The teddy-bot then "spoke the answer to the elder.

    Dont know if this project still is in progress. However, an old lady mentioned that the positive impact of the robot was that so much researchers and journalists came to visit her these days...

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I'm no cultural anthropologist, but something must be seriously fucked up with a nation that produces millions of locked-away teenagers, unending streams of paedophilic tentacle rape comics and expensive robots to keep its elderly people sane. Say what you want about the bloated corpulence of USofAia, but I'd take physical problems over crippling psychological problems and abandonment of the elderly.
    • ...unending streams of paedophilic tentacle rape comics...

      There's a good reason for this. Japanese law (Written by USA, mind you) bans "indecent content", specifying pubic hair and the sexual organs in print. Thus, literature seems pedophilic because there are no pubes, making the chicks/boys appear younger. Also, the tentacles are that way because they, uhm, are phalluses. Wikipedia would elaborate for you, I won't. (This is all from memory anyways, vague ones)

      and expensive robots to keep its elderly p
    • by Maestro4k (707634) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @10:17AM (#10973670) Journal
      • I'm no cultural anthropologist,

      You're either seriously misinformed, too lazy to look up the real facts or just trolling actually. While Japan is certainly far from perfect, this is a totally unfair attack.

      • but something must be seriously fucked up with a nation that produces millions of locked-away teenagers,

      It's called Hikikomori so you can look up more info on it. Yes there are a million teens who have this problem, but there are many millions who don't. The problem isn't considered a disease (at least not yet), and the problems that trigger it are problems that occur elsewhere as well. From this site [doubletongued.org]: "For reasons ranging from bullying to exam failure, some young people are shutting themselves away in their rooms and having as little direct contact with the outside world as possible. Many are suicidal, but lack the will to make good their morbid fantasies." From what I've read (in the past, can't find the exact links right now) it's a combination that generally causes it. It's not just bad grades or bullying, but a combination of those and/or other factors. Faced with that kind of pressure kids in any country are going to have trouble dealing with it. In fact, China and Korea have problems with high teen suicide rates (just like Japan) largely due to all three placing such importance on doing well on school. If China and Korea aren't seeing problems similiar to Hikikomori yet, they will in the future.

      As for why the US doesn't, well kids here by and large don't give a damn if they do well in school so that's one less pressure to trigger something like this. But we do have bullying in schools, in spades in fact, and we have nothing to be proud of in the results it can cause, remember Columbine? What's sad is we didn't really learn anything from that tragedy, the initial response was to ban wearing black trenchcoats and to target teens with similar interests to the two instigators for further scrutiny. What needs to be done is to focus on the kids who are the bullys and punish them for bullying others. Until bullying, which is the root problem, is addressed other incidents like Columbine are likely to happen. I hope I'm wrong there, but I doubt it.

      • unending streams of paedophilic tentacle rape comics

      On please, you know absolutely nothing about manga. Yeah there is tentacle rape stuff, but it's just a drop in the sea. Japan produces comics for all ages, and they're quite popular. It's everywhere, and most of it is decidedly NOT pedophilic or tentacle rape. And of the stuff that is, as another pointed out it's not necessarily pedophilic, it's cultural issues that lead to the creation of it. (And BTW, the US has some blame in that, we're the ones who applied the first anti-obscenity laws to Japan post WWII.)

      • and expensive robots to keep its elderly people sane.

      At least they're trying to do something about the problem, exacly what are we doing here in the US? At best we're building more nursing homes to stuff the elderly into so we can forget them. Hardly a higher moral ground.

      • Say what you want about the bloated corpulence of USofAia, but I'd take physical problems over crippling psychological problems and abandonment of the elderly.

      What say you buck the general American trend of presuming you know everything about a country you've not even been to and stop acting all high and mighty when you're clueless. While Japan isn't perfect, neither is the US and in the grand scheme of things the US probably has more to be ashamed of. We also have our share of crippling psychological problems, you just don't appear to be aware of them either. (Do you even watch/read the news?) Depression is becoming epidemic and one of the top prescription drugs people get busted for having is Xanax. Xanax isn't a narcotic, it's an anti-anxiety medication.

      And frankly when it comes t

    • something must be seriously fucked up with a nation that produces millions of locked-away teenagers
      What about a country that produces millions of teenage girls that eat a big meal and then throw it up intentionally?

      I'm not slaming the US (I live there), it just seems stupid to degrade a nation because of a condition that occurs there.
  • Stupidest. Name. Ever.
    I'd have said worst, but really, it's just so silly! But then I guess this is from the nation that brought us one of the finest performance cars ever, titled the Fairlady.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 02, 2004 @07:26AM (#10972846)
    In America, Old people get shot by shotgun toting robots.
  • by RealProgrammer (723725) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @07:32AM (#10972864) Homepage Journal
    My wife works in a nursing home. It's her job to fill the old folks' day with interesting activities. She has to make sure that each one of them gets interaction that's not related to their health maintenance. They have an elaborate system for tracking and monitoring the amount and type of interaction each resident gets.

    "Senility" is a blanket term covering all kinds of maladies, including Alzheimer's, the effects of stroke, and atrophy of various kinds. Most people in geriatrics agree that to stave off senility you should use the same tactics you use to stay healthy now. Eat sensibly, get plenty of exercise (including the horizontal variety if you can get it!), and engage in mentally challenging activities.

    The mentally challenging activities that are best at delaying senility are things you've never done before. If you've never played music, try learning to play an instrument. Learn another language, especially sign language. If you have an elderly relative, get them hooked on email. It won't take long, since they're usually starved for communication.

    A talking robot is fine, but old people really need young people.
  • Support (Score:5, Funny)

    by cerberusss (660701) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @07:35AM (#10972872) Homepage Journal
    We have these robots working at the support department of the company I work at.

    Customer: I can't log into my database instance
    Support: You can't log into your database instance?

    Et cetera...

    • Damit why do I always find good posts after I've used up my mod points?

      Anyway, here have an unofficial +1 Funny from me :)
  • If a person tells Snuggling Ifbot, "I'm bored today," the robot might respond, "Are you bored? What do you want to do?"

    Might respond? That's a lot of money for the possibility of a reply.

  • by ajs318 (655362) <sd_resp2&earthshod,co,uk> on Thursday December 02, 2004 @08:12AM (#10972985)
    If you want something to keep you fit, healthy, happy and not lonely in your old age, why the freakin' hell not just get a freakin' dog already? Granted, the basic out-of-the-box model needs some hardware mods to avoid spawning too many child processes, and you have to update its virus and worm protection every few months. But you should get at least 6 years uptime -- and probably even more from one using generic, commodity parts from a mixture of suppliers.
  • Just thing: a whole generation of children may go from having to talk to Teddy Ruxpin due to loneliness to having to talk to Snuggling Ifbot due to loneliness.

    At least Teddy could read stories.
  • one gets the impression it increases senility. It should not repeat the question to the user but start dancing in some way while vacuuming.
  • Old robots talk to you!!!
  • Sad (Score:4, Interesting)

    by elgatozorbas (783538) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @08:19AM (#10973025)
    Am I the only one to think it is sad old people should now revert to robots?
    One hundred years ago, having children was an insurance for old age: if you had many, at least one of them would take care of you. At least, such was the situation in Europe (where I live), and I know this was especially the case in Asia too. Probably life was shorter back than, and the elderly weren't a 'burden' for a long time...

    Nowadays, people live longer (or at least they can choose to, by living healthy... obesitas anyone?), and their offspring is busier. So I can understand it is not always feasible to take care of your parents yourself, and we now have nursing homes.

    But when I am old, and put in such place, which is understaffed, and no one has the time to deal with me, and the only companion I have is an AI electronic device, why would I want to live any longer? Or why wouldn't I be better off senile? The only explanation is that a minimal preservation of my mental abilities would be easier for the (few) humans taking care of me.
    A sad 28 year old.

    Z
  • So, we are one step closer to Roujin Z [animeworld.com] it seems....

    Seriously though, I've seen on TV before how elderly people in Japan were given little animatronic bears to keep them company. Perhaps for those suffering from dementia it could be an aid, but mostly I found it sad. Imagine being cooped up in a home for the elderly with just a machine that is barely on the level of "Eliza" to keep you company, every day the same as last. No wonder some long for death.

    When my parents are getting old, I will make sure I ha
  • Perhaps the people employed to greet employees in shops, and press buttons on the elevators could be employed to visit old people instead.

    Just a thought.
  • "If a person tells Snuggling Ifbot, "I'm bored today," the robot might respond, "Are you bored? What do you want to do?"

    Old person: "Listening to other people talk makes me suicidal."
    Snuggling Ifbot: "Listening to other people talk makes you suicidal? What do you want to do? Tell me, what? Surely there is something you want to do? Can you tell me what it is?"
  • Haven't they seen Rojin Z [imdb.com]?!

    It's an Anime about an old man who gets a robotic bed to care for him that goes on a city destroying rampage.
  • Want a robot for a companion? How about one that actually does something practical. Get grannie and gramps a Roomba. [uncoveror.com]
  • I fear for the generation of children that grow up and learn to speak English from a Japanese programmer.

    Robot: "Pleasant sentiment, young not adults!"
    Children: "Satisfy early time in day, converyer of learn!"
    Robot: "English will be shown language through class. We have learn verb later."

    shiver
  • I'm going to name mine Bob :-)
    Mike
  • I saw a show on something similar where an MIT student was proposing the same thing - robots for elderly companionship. It's so insensitive it makes you wince.

    People require interaction with other people. The elderly are in a difficult position because they are no longer part of the day to day hustle and bustle and the interaction that entails. They need to know they are cared about, and trying to substitute a robot in for human companionship will tell them exactly the opposite. Even most geeks don't liv
  • I wonder if you can get this in Japan? They're gonna need it.

    Old Glory Robot Insurance [robotcombat.com]
  • I hear you can buy a special pusher attachment, a shover attachment, a bread-shover attachment, and a snow-pusher attachment.

    --Rob

  • Old people talk to just about anything :)
  • Notice the oldster on park benches feeding and talking to the park critters. Cheaper than buy a robot.
  • by hoggoth (414195) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @10:50AM (#10974007) Journal
    I found this video clip [jonathonrobinson.com] of the Japanese robots they will be selling to old people to avoid senility.
  • "its makers plan to program the robot in English -- not for export, but to teach the language to Japanese children."

    Well at least the future is shaping up to transpire like a good anime, with our young ninja overlords being trained in our ways by their robot tutors.

    --

    I sincerely hope that in the movie of my life, I play a major character.
  • > its makers plan to program the robot in English -- not for export, but to teach the language to Japanese children

    Repeat after me:
    Somebody set up us the bomb.
    What you say !!
    Take off every 'zig' !!
    Move 'zig'.
    For great justice.

  • How long before it has its own TV show?
  • Country jokes make it into news headlines.
  • For when the metal ones decide to come for you... and they will!

    http://www.robotcombat.com/video_oldglory_hi.htm l
  • Why do people think of elders as disposable garbage or something? Oh, sonny's busy with his wife, so he can't visit you even once a week. Phone calls? Sorry, too busy. Stop bugging me, you're not useful anymore.

    Oh wait, there's a replacement for the love I can't give you. Meet Mr. Robot. Enjoy.

    Geez.
  • by payndz (589033) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @12:46PM (#10975358)
    Combine the two...

    "I'm bored today."
    [KLA-CHAK!] "Activating weapons systems! Target located! Preparing to terminate!"
    "I'mnotboredanymore! AAAAIIEEE!"

  • They could call him Clippy, and when children say stuff like, "I want to go play!" the robot would reply, "You want an apple? Get it yourself."

    Really, I'm terrified of the language that these children will be learning. First off, I don't trust programmers with the English language when it IS their first language. Second, robots are stupid. And have a database of canned responses. And will misinterpret the children.

    There will be an army of asian children who speak excellent english, but don't know wha

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