03 January 2009

Baby Convergence: Toys, Tools, and Fetishes How Does This All Come Together?

The realistic looking "infant" above is actually a doll. A "Reborn Baby" doll, to be specific. These dolls are hand-made by specialty artists who then "adopt" them out on e-Bay or Amazon. The new "parents" often start treating the dolls as if they were real babies!

Meanwhile, on the toy front for children, toy doll manufacturers have been attempting to create more realistic "action dolls", or robo-babies, to boost sales -- for several years. These babies will cry, burp, fart, nap, and wake up to cry again for attention. A talking doll for teaching children how to use the toilet was also popular this past Christmas season.
Hasbro's My Real Baby is going head to head with Mattel's similarly sophisticated Miracle Moves Baby, and in the race to capture the high-end market for little girls, both corporations have enlisted serious hired guns: Hasbro has the smarts of iRobot, while Mattel's project is largely in the hands of Caleb Chung, the visionary creator of Furby. The two companies are also going up against MGA, a small, privately held firm that's set a September release date for My Dream Baby. Though less animatronic than its competitors, My Dream Baby grows, its torso slowly extending like a telescope. The doll ultimately learns to walk. It's the dark horse in the robobaby race, and it's being developed by roboticists in the Far East. Other electronic interactive dolls, many of them cheaper though less advanced, wait in the wings. _Wired
And in the middle of the spectrum are the RealCare Baby simulators that are meant to train teenagers and prospective parents in the close care of very young infants. This promo video is a good presentation of the RealCare Baby and the intentions of its parent company and cooperating institutions. Much advanced over the Tamagotchi, but not nearly as realistic in appearance as the Reborn Baby. And there are are some reports that some of the teenage girls who are assigned RealCare_Baby actually feel more inclined to have a baby, instead of less inclined -- as intended by the program.

In Japan -- where real babies are very scarce -- researchers and engineers are working to create a realistic robot baby to act as a baby surrogate, for women who never got around to having children, or for women who are too old to have another baby. Given the skills of Japanese roboticists, super-realistic robot babies may be first built successfully in Japan.

Imagine a robot that looks and acts just like a baby. Over time, it slowly grows and learns to talk and walk. Soon, owners begin to believe this robot is a real person. Question: If the robot breaks down, how much will these "parents" pay to have the robo-pediatrician fix it?

Assume the realistic robot baby can take milk and food, and use the calories for energy and to keep growing bigger. It learns to run and play and learns school lessons -- perhaps even goes to homeschool and plays a musical instrument?

In a world where women do not marry, do not bear children, work full time and socialise mainly in groups (with time out for an occasional hookup) -- how convenient it would be to have a child that you could turn off while you are at work, and turn back on when you get home. You could feed it robot food indistinguishable from dry dog food and it collects its own "litter", so very little muss and fuss.

Perhaps when these robots are older and more experienced (age 8 and above), they can even run a home business to augment the household income? Very protective parents may refuse to let adolescent robots out of the house -- which could make for some very nasty parent - child arguments. Oh, by the way -- when would a robot come of age and achieve emancipation from its parents?

Very sticky questions, made possible by emerging technologies.

Since the only way out of the current economic doldrums and near - term neo-fascisms that we know of is new disruptive technologies, it is likely that even while the narcissist-elect is putting the screws to the private sectors of the US and the world, investment will continue to move toward R&D in the disruptive tech areas. We need to hope so. We need to hope so very much.

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