Today I’d like to share a story illustrating the importance of cognition and the way elderly look at technology. It’s a well-known comparison, but I believe it’s important enough to review. Furthermore, it involves dogs and cats, so if that’s not worth reading about, I don’t know what is.
Above, two robot companions are depicted: the iCat, a continuation of the iDog developped by Sega, and the Aibo, developped by Sony. Both of these have been the topic of numerous studies concerning human behaviour, two of which will be treated below (see References).
The iCat can be described as a smart companion dialogue system. It’s a device that offers a plethora of options and systems, including facial and voice recognition. It has an array of facial expressions itself, ranging from happy to confused, and can offer information about the weather along with other topics. Furthermore, it can remember (and pronounce) your name, birthdays or anything else you want it to.
It’s easy to see why researchers believed the iCat to be a useful platform in the care for the elderly. the device can remind the user it’s time to take their medication, monitor the patient, … Unfortunately, the patients themselves had something else in mind. Some of them wanted to communicate with the iCat and a personal level, a function which it doesn’t support. It’s quite sad really to see a senior citizen trying to explain how many brothers and sisters he/she has, while the iCat keeps asking which music the patient prefers to listen to at the moment. Other users regarded the cat as nothing more than a machine and kept on confusing it with questions it couldn’t answer or just ignoring it outright after a few minutes (after the novelty of hearing the iCat say your name wore off). The study concluded that the system could be valuable, but it’s essential to explain the function of the iCat to the patients. One can’t stop wondering though if a simple alarm clock wouldn’t be just as useful.
Another study, concerning the Aibo, tried to investigate this concept of companionship. The Aibo (Artificial Intelligence roBOt) is a robotic dog designed to imitate doglike behaviour. It can recognise some basic commands (like ‘sit’), likes to play with his ball and likes to be patted. Granted, later versions could dance and perform more advanced manoeuvres, but we’ll only consider the basic model in this post. Originally, it was marketed as a toy for children, but this study introduced another target audience.
This robot was also introduced to a number of senior citizens in an attempt to alleviate boredom and introduce a companion. Weirdly enough, it worked like a charm. Most of the elderly treated the Aibo as an intelligent creature and behaved appropriately. They were angry when the dog didn’t listen, sorry when they upset it and happy when it was prancing around the living room. Some patients were quite sad to see their beloved pet leave after the experiment was concluded. When these patients were asked if they would like to buy an Aibo of their own, they gave a negative answer, since it wouldn’t be the same dog they have now (!).
An entertaining collection of documentaries can be found here.
(1) M. Heerink, B. Kröse, B. Wielinga and V. Evers, “Human-Robot User Studies in Eldercare: Lessons Learned“, Amsterdam.
(2) A. Mahdi, A. A. Onaindia, N. Yang and Z. Zhan, “Design and Organization of Autonomous Systems”, Amsterdam.