Perfect Pets, Virtual Companionship and the Uncanny Valley…

Perfect Pets (breathing)

I dropped by Delta Sonic today to refuel my cheebye Dodge Neon and have lunch at the same time. Not that I have an appetite for gasoline (it’s too expensive), but I did have a nice Panini sandwich.

While waiting in line to pay, I noticed these pets for sale by the counter. As I got closer to inspect, I noticed that they were sleeping, relaxed and clearly breathing. Is it real though? What if I thought it was, yet sensed something unnerving about it?

Mori's Uncanny Valley (1984)There’s an area of science around this… though some might consider it pseudo-science. It’s called the Uncanny Valley.

According to Japanese roboticist Dr. Masahiro Mori (1984), the uncanny valley (or chasm) in the graph on the right “represents the point at which a person observing the creature or object in question sees something that is nearly human, but just enough off balance to seem eerie or disquieting. The first peak […] is where that same individual would see something that is human enough to arouse some empathy, yet at the same time is clearly enough not human to avoid the sense of wrongness. The slope leading up to this first peak is a province of relative emotional detachment—affection, perhaps, but rarely more than that.

The conclusion drawn by the good doctor is that designers of robots or prosthetics should not strive overly hard to duplicate human appearance, lest some seemingly minor flaw drop the hapless android or cyborg into the uncanny valley—a fate to be dreaded by all concerned. He maintains instead that a prosthesis or a robot should be visibly artificial, but smart and stylish in appearance, placing it somewhere near the top of the first peak. This ethos, incidentally, can be seen clearly in a great many science fiction and fantasy manga and animé stories.”

In the case of these “Perfect Pets”, their tummies would inflate and deflate just like a real sleeping animal. Their furs looked and felt real, and the simulated sleeping behavior was simple to replicate, yielding life-like qualities good enough to possibly stimulate anyone into thinking that they had a household companion. That’s the neat part, that you don’t need to replicate every aspect of an animal, to make it real, just the synthesis of it which makes it behave according to our perceived natural or social scripts.

Thinking of the cold lonely winter months ahead (ah yes!), I thought how clever it was to market these “perfect pets” at this time. While some might think it’s silly, sometimes all we need is some form of presence stimulus to fool our senses into thinking we’ve got companions with us, that we’re not alone.

As you can see, the cats cost more probably because you’ve to get the entire family. I do feel that the dogs were more realistic though, especially when they’re all black or like the Pug below. Looking at the Perfect Petzzz web site, this White Shorthair kitten didn’t seem too bad either.

3 thoughts on “Perfect Pets, Virtual Companionship and the Uncanny Valley…

  1. These are so cute! How come cats are more expensive than the dogs? Ha!

    Anyway to get them into Singapore? Would loveee to own the cute little kittens.

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