Sony’s robot dog, Aibo, has some things going for it as a pet. You can go away for the weekend and not worry about feeding it. It won’t leave “presents” for you on your bedroom floor, ever. And, when you get tired of it, it has an “off” switch.
On the other hand, a real dog can’t spy on you. Or, if it does, what’s it going to do with your family’s info anyway, complain about you to the cat?
The Newest AI Tech Makes It Compelling
Aibo has been around since the 1990’s. It’s gone through various permutations, but this latest model is a considerable upgrade. Aibo uses algorithms and AI to read your facial expressions and gestures. It can, and will, respond in a decidedly canine way to your commands; sometimes it will even ignore you like a real dog might.
Previous iterations of Aibo had no eyes and a helmet-like quality to its head. But this new Aibo has large, baby seal-like animated eyes that roll, blink and even dilate in response to stimuli. It looks, at times, shockingly real.
And people respond to Aibo as if it were a real pet.
In a video story on CNET, two different Aibo owners are featured, holding Aibo, petting it and teaching it tricks. It’ll roll over for belly rubs and learn to play fetch if you work with it. One owner even said it’s as annoying as his real dogs, saying it “will still make a bunch of noise during Game of Thrones.” One wonders: would it respond to the threat of its owner brandishing a rolled up newspaper?
Needless to say, the other pets in that owner’s household aren’t fooled. The video shows the family feline marching past Aibo with nary a passing glance. Animals know, because Aibo simply isn’t alive, and certainly doesn’t smell alive. People, on the other hand, fall for the emotional manipulation present in Aibo’s algorithms.
“We couldn’t have a fur dog,” one owner explained. “It wouldn’t fit with our lifestyle.”
Besides the Fact Aibo Isn’t Real, What Are the Other Drawbacks?
An Aibo is packed full of tech. Its specs include four microphones, two cameras, and tons of sensors for roaming about and learning about its environment (think of a Roomba, but with two OLED eyes winking at you). The cost for all this tech is substantial: about three grand. There are fancy purebred dogs you can buy for less.
Aibo’s microphones pick up voices issuing commands, but it doesn’t record the way other devices, like Alexa, do. What it does use, and what’s controversial, is facial recognition technology, or biometrics. Facial recognition is used when Aibo is learning about its owners, both for identification purposes and to tease out the person’s likes and dislikes. Look up Aibo’s nose, and you’ll be peering right up into its camera that’s solely for that purpose. Aibo learns by watching, and the data it gathers can be used by Sony, although not in a direct way.
“In order to mimic the behavior of an actual pet, an Aibo device will learn to behave differently around familiar people,” Sony’s support page reads. “To enable this recognition, Aibo conducts a facial analysis of those it observes through its cameras.”
Aibo has an option to take up to 30 photographs per day of what it’s seein, and post them on its owner’s iCloud Aibo account. The default for this option is “off,” so you would have to opt in to have it save those shots. However, if you do
“When an Aibo owner subscribes to the Cloud Service, the facial recognition data is collected by Sony as part of the Aibo Product’s automated backup process and is used by Sony to provide technical support and repair services to the owner. An Aibo Product owner may also utilize Aibo’s optional “Patrol” feature enabling the owner to affirmatively program the Aibo Product to recognize his or her face or – with the assistance of another household member or guest – the face of such household member or guest. When using the facial-recognition functionality of the Patrol feature, an A
Still, Sony can and will collect information about you through Aibo, and it can and will use that information for its own targeted marketing purposes. It can also use your data as part of third party data. Sony states:
“We may share non-personal information, such as aggregate user statistics, demographic information, hashed or otherwise de-identified data, and usage i
This “hashed” data, technically, is nameless, faceless and anonymous. Except technology has gotten so good marketers can really zero in on who you are and still manage to reach you.
Legislation Is Catching Up to Tech
The biometrics involved in a device like Aibo has spurred legislation in many states. In Illinois, for instance, its new Biometrics Information Protection Act (BIPA) protects the consumer from having their biometric information used so completely, Sony cannot sell the Aibo in that state.
There’s a national version of a privacy act aimed at children called the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The toy company Vtech lost a suit recently due to COPPA; it was collecting kids’ data as they played with the company’s toys. COPPA protects children up to age 13. And guess what? Sony rates Aibo as being a toy for kids 13+, thus bypassing COPPA protections. Of course, Sony can’t control kids younger than 13 living with an Aibo and having it take pictures anyway.
“Your California Privacy Rights: If you are a California resident, you have the right to receive: (a) information identifying any third party to whom Sony may have disclosed, within the preceding calendar year, your personal information for that third party’s direct marketing purposes; and (b) a description of the categories of personal information disclosed. To obtain such information free of charge, please write to us…”
You should receive some sort of reply within 30 days.