PARO robot: ethical or not?

One of Japan’s contributions to robotics [see Steve’s roundup 15 Apr], the stuffed PARO baby harp seal, gets the ‘controversial’ treatment from The Wall Street Journal today. Is this $6000 Class II medical device a comforting, interactive emotional support for older people, particularly those with dementia–or an inhumane diversion that relegates humans to mundane tasks and away from emotional connection with residents? It certainly has had mixed reviews, and even its adoption in Japan has been limited. Greatest success…

Denmark.  Dr. Bill Thomas of is particularly scathing.  His blog post embeds a PARO demo video that is an inadvertent creepshow.  Yet the WSJ video of Japanese nursing home residents interacting with PARO is charming.  It may be a cultural thing–it is, after all, from the land of Hello Kitty, whose feline charm has always eluded this editor [Donna] Yet knowing from a personal perspective how plush animals can please and soothe a person with dementia….you be the judge.  Wall Street Journal

2 thoughts on “PARO robot: ethical or not?

  1. PARO v Roxxxy ethics
    Having something that looks, moves, responds and, to some extent, learns like a pet without the mess must be an attractive proposition for many people. However, at $6,000 the PARO is only slightly less than the Roxxxy – or Rocky, depending on preference – ‘sex robot’. I wonder whether care home owners will have different rules for people that want one or the other?

  2. The idea is the right one, execution needs lots of work

    Some random comments:

    * I respect Dr. Thomas’s work but I believe he is on the wrong track in being outraged at the very notion of a robotic pet. (Would he deny brain fitness games or Wii for the older person?  They run on computers after all!) It’s denying access to a basic, elemental emotion in those who need it most. Pets and stuffed animals appeal to something very basic in humans. Witness children with bears–completely inanimate, all projection–and most people with pets. Pets are basic interactivity and interdependency. Pets also stimulate fresh conversation and memory.

    * Caregivers can develop a guided way of using a robotic pet that involves human interaction–witness those who bring real pets to care homes and rehabs.

    * Human interaction may be, at any time, difficult for the older person for a wide variety of reasons. Can we give them a break and let them relate and be pleased by a pet, real or robotic?

    * My Western sensibility says ‘dog or cat’–harp seal is not going to evoke memories (except of clubbing on the ice).

    * My marketing sensibility says ‘get the cost down by a factor of 10’ and you might have a winner.

    A mystery to me is that the Japanese, who historically have been so good at bringing products into the mass Western market at attractive prices, have not done the same with robotic pets.

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