ANDROIDS ALL AROUND US
people, as you can easily see without visiting any robotics laboratories. Just spend a few moments with any recent robotic toy such as the Sony Corporation’s AIBO dog (Artificial intelligence + robot) that went on sale in 1999, or the I-Cybie robot dog, made by Tiger Elec- tronics and Silverlit Toys.These two could never be taken as natural creatures because both are only plastic caricatures of a dog, but like Cog, they need not work very hard to elicit human reactions. If the creature interacts with the world, has some capacity to change its behavior as it gains experience—that is, if it can learn—and displays natural-seeming behavior, it can project a well-nigh irresistible im- pression of life.
As you watch I-Cybie cock its head toward you when you call its name, or AIBO perform a trick at your voice command, it’s easy to feel something toward the mechanism: amazement that it listens to you or a small rush of affection. And if the synthetic being looks like a human rather than an animal, like Kismet’s face or the toy robot in- fant called My Real Baby released in 2000, its emotional power is far more intense.
On the face of it, it might seem unreasonable to have feelings toward “a creature that really doesn’t know you’re there,” as sociolo- gist Sherry Turkle of MIT puts it, yet it happens all the time. Little girls have always loved their dolls, no matter how crude, and children and adults bond to objects and machines not in the least cute or petlike.We become attached to bicycles, boats, and computers, giving them names, endowing them with personalities, and projecting hu- man or animal dimensions onto their actions. We swear at a “stub- born” or “cranky” lawnmower that won’t start, or affectionately caress a sleek car as we would a superb racehorse.
Artificial beings, however, are not limited to fully manufactured creatures of plastic and metal. We ourselves are partly artificial or “bionic”—that is, people with synthetic parts—to a surprising extent: 8 to 10 percent of the U.S. population, approximately 25 million people, and becoming more so as our population ages. Our bionic additions include functional prosthetic devices and implants, such as artificial limbs, replacement knees and hips, and vascular stents (tiny