Vol. 2, Issue 23, June 8, 2004
AIBO Society Bids for Recognition by AKC
Sony's robotic dog AIBO, one of the most sophisticated of robotic pets currently on the market, has many devotees. Owners describe the AIBO as a wonderful companion capable of meaningful interactions; they gather in online chatrooms and share tales of training their robots, which they consider the equal of any canine out there.
So it is perhaps no surprise that the AIBO Society of America has petitioned the American Kennel Club (AKC) for recognition.
"There are thousands of devoted AIBO owners out there who can tell you that these companion animals are every bit as unique and wonderful as any conventional dog," said Sandra McTague, chair of the AIBO group. "It's time they had the same status and privileges as every other breed."
The AKC has not, so far, been receptive to the idea.
"Well there's the problem first of all that these robots aren't dogs," said Dennis Sprung, president and CEO of the AKC. "But more troublesome to us frankly is the definition of a breed standard. Our goal is to define and preserve the purest bloodlines possible. If Sony decides to outsource production of AIBO components to another company, is the AIBO still a purebred? Is hacking the thing's programming analogous to genetic manipulation?"
The AIBO Society is seeking recognition of the "breed" by the AKC because of widespread interest among members in joining the "glamorous and profitable world of dog shows."
Sony classifies AIBO as an autonomous robot, meaning that it has the ability to learn, mature, and act on its own in response to external stimuli.
"Right away, that sets them above most of your smaller dog breeds," said McTague. "I defy anyone to demonstrate that a Yorkshire Terrier has the ability to mature."
A final decision by the AKC is pending, but observers suggest that they could have difficulty rejecting the AIBO simply on the grounds that it is an artificial life-form.
"Where does that line of reasoning end?" said Raymond Zavella, professor of sociology at Brandeis University. "If the AKC rules that mechanical parts aren't canine, then doesn't that suggest any purebred with a hip replacement or microchip implant should be kicked out of the breed? The AKC must be very, very careful when making this determination."
McTague is apparently confident that the AIBO Society's petition will eventually be granted, even if it becomes necessary to bring the AKC to court.
"I can't wait," she added enthusiastically. "My model ERS-7, "Fluffy," is already downloading some new routines in preparation for the 2005 Westminster Dog Show."