Sony’s robot dog named AIBO was launched in 1999. It was the first home-use entertainment robot equipped with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and capable of developing its own personality.
Sony decided to discontinue the manufacturing of AIBOs in 2006, but many of the 150,000 robots still live on inside owners’ homes. The AIBO dogs are slowly ‘dying’ due to lack of parts and limited repair options, so owners have to come to terms with the fact that the lights of their lovable pets may be gone forever. Some owners are paying their respects to the lifelike creatures with funerals. Priests pray for their souls so that they can easily pass from their bodies. The funerals are quite similar to any other in Japan. The dogs are lined up on the altar with tags showing where they came from and which family they belonged to.
Since they had the ability to develop personalities, many people considered them more than just a high-tech toy. “The people who have them, (AIBO dogs) feel their presence and personality,” Nobuyuki Narimatsu, director of A-Fun said, “So we think that somehow, they really have souls.” A 70 year old AIBO owner Mori Hideko talked about enjoying having the dog around the house, having conversations with it, and how she was saddened when he broke.
Hiroshi Funabashi supervises repairs at A FUN, said AIBO owners regard him more as a doctor than an engineer. “The word ‘repair’ doesn’t fit here,” he said. “For those who keep AIBOs, they are nothing like home appliances. It’s obvious they think their (robotic pet) is a family member. I don’t know if people will develop affection (towards a new generation of robots) in five, six years’ time,” said Funabashi. “But I think we need to recognize they are not ordinary electrical devices.” A Japanese couple who do not have children, call their AIBO ‘Ai-chan’ and treat it like a daughter. The couple have agreed that whoever lives longer will be cremated alongside the dog. “I can’t imagine how quiet our living room would have been if Ai-chan wasn’t here,” the wife said. “It will be sad when the day finally comes when Ai-chan is unable to stand up.”