Thursday, February 09, 2006

Man Bites Dog

How sad to read last week in the New York Times that "For Sony's Robotic Aibo, It's the Last Year of the Dog." Just a few months earlier, when I was in Japan, I had bonded with an Aibo in the Sony showroom. Who could resist? The Aibo is also the perfect pet for the would-be Critical Theorist because it combines early ("Cyborg Manifesto") Donna Haraway with late ("Companion Species Manifesto") Haraway. Plus, it's great for bookish types, because unlike a real creature that leaps on you unannounced or snatches away food in an eyeblink, the Aibo is incapable of spontaneous animality and moves through its artificial life at a consistent, pensive, hesitant pace.

Sony's announcement will also close a chapter in the history of the Open Source Wars, for those who wanted to teach their old dogs new tricks by AIBO hacking. (Check out this disco sample!) Sony initially responded by stifling new code and resisting the activities of emerging "homebrew" coding communities, as it also did with the PSP. At DAC 2005 I was on the same panel as MIT's Brett Camper, who presented a paper about homebrew communities devoted to Nintendo's Game Boy. Apparently Nintendo adopted a much more tolerant attitude toward do-it-yourselfers like those at NDS Homebrew or PRRoms.

Several web rings are devoted to now mourning Aibo hobbyists, who just recently had received more concessions from Sony on code sharing. Robotics scientists also have been working with this electronic canine for research purposes, as this AIBO case study shows. Luckily, the Aibo may have a second life as a police dog, since its Evolution software can be used for future crime scene investigations.

Ironically, the adorable, cuddly Aibo is the creation of Japanese pin-up artist and designer of erotic robots Hajime Sorayama, who has most recently worked on a new Mickey Mouse prototype.



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