Getting a virtual pet in second life is quite a remarkable experience. You go to the shop and choose your pet, in this case a cat.You can see the genealogy of your cat. Opposite are the details taken when she (!) was three days old. The “birth” is an experience in itself. You buy a box with your kitty in it and rezz it. You have to wait 15 minutes and you are presented with a dialogue such as ” Your kitty’s eyes are just opening and she is fumbling around” This goes on for 15 minutes detailing what would be the birth of a real kitten. You, well we did, you sit and wait and watch as the box starts to move. Then the kitten is born. A kind of reverse imprinting occurs.
A rapid learning process by which a newborn or very young animal establishes a behavior pattern of recognition and attraction to another animal of its own kind or to a substitute or an object identified as the parent.
The kitten is tiny and has a name. You can see its menu detailing its love, happiness, food status and age. You set its area of travel . She can sit on your shoulder during the first week . (Sorry having trouble with “she” and “it”).
This is a bundle of pixels. Yet psychological mechanisms are at work here. Throughout second life a process goes on whereby identity is given to an onscreen representation of yourself. Here an identity i.e. your cat is a being. It is a primitive expert system that responds to your input.
This kind of behaviour is not uncommon in children. Their toys take on a life of their own with likes and dislikes, a pure projection of the child’s imagination. How much more real is having a “toy” that has a degree of autonomy but is still dependent on you for love and food in order to grow and live? Bonding occurs. But the bonding is with the avatar so we are even further removed from the actuality. Isn’t this wonderful. first we have an identification with the avatar which becomes an extension of ourselves then we anthropomorphize even further to give life to a bundle of pixels.
You notice that set above the animals head is a menu. This shows the cats energy, love factor, happiness factor and if it is hungry. These change according to your interaction. The more you pet the cat the greater its happiness factor. In the first seven days your cat will grow. Initially she or he will sit on your shoulder but after six days will become to big to do this. Food is rezzed and the cat will find it (Its placed within the roaming range) . Your cat will roam around sniffing at things, cleaning itself and will chase butterflies from an emitter. There was an incident with Ormond where Storm (my partner) made a mistake with deeding him to the group. Ormond became sick and lay in his basket not eating and was covered with a blanket. It was quite upsetting.
Kill The Robot
In the 80s while researching expert systems I came across the following study, reference lost sorry. A small robot was created with LED lights and could traverse a counter top. It had sensors whereby when its batteries became low it would plug itself into a wall socket. It would emit “happy” beeping sounds and its lights would pulse and glow. A subject was asked to observe the robot then was given a hammer and told to “kill” it. It was after all just a bundle of transistors and servos. The subject was reluctant and the robot with the aid of proximity sensors was able to avoid the hammer. It could run away. Eventually the subject caught the robot a glancing blow disabling one of its wheels which began to leak oil. It ran around in circles bleeping. The subject became very distressed and demanded that the researcher kill the robot and put it out of its misery.
Many of you might know of ELIZA (after Eliza Doolittle , Pygmalion) created first in the 60s. It had a sub routine called DOCTOR. It was not AI but simulated it so well it became famous. Based on Rogerian psychotherapy a dialogue would go something like this:
Patient: “Everybody hates me”
DOCTOR: “Why do you think everyone hates you?”
Patient : Because my mother told them to”
DOCTOR “Tell me about your mother”
etc……key words could be identified or a response could be simply turning a statement into a question. It was phenomenal how people reacted. Some said when discovered using the program that it was confidential or personal even after having the program explained to them.
Paro, a robot used in the treatment of dementia.
Paro was developed by Takanori Shibata, a researcher at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology. Paro is a therapeutic, pet-type robot with the appearance of a baby harp seal.
Paro has tactile sensors and moves its tail and flippers and will respond by opening its eyes and moving its face toward the sound of voice. Paro’s sensors monitor sound, light, temperature and touch and Paro respond’s appropriately, such as responding to its name and being stroked.
Paro can show various emotions including surprise, happiness and anger, and Paro will cry if it is not receiving sufficient attention.
Anthropomorphism, or personification, is attribution of human form or other characteristics to anything other than a human being. This isn’t good enough to explain what is going on here with cats. (Got to laugh there is a group on Facebook: P.E.T.R.A: People for the Ethical Treatment of Robot Animals. ) Our cat are robots coz they are exhibit AI. They have there own mechanisms to handle their environment and respond to avatar owners. They can be petted and will reward the avatar with an increase in happiness. Just as a real cat responds to stroking with purring. But all they are is a bundle of pixels.
Suspension of Disbelief
Suspension of disbelief or willing suspension of disbelief is a term coined in 1817 by the poet and aesthetic philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who suggested that if a writer could infuse a “human interest and a semblance of truth” into a fantastic tale, the reader would suspend judgment concerning the implausibility of the narrative. Suspension of disbelief often applies to fictional works of the action, comedy, fantasy, and horror genres, as well as in professional wrestling.
Can it apply here? We have already come some way with this with our avatars in second life we consider them to be real. We go beyond them being merely representations and almost have given them a life of their own. Our cats have a certain autonomy but just like their real counterparts need food and attention in order to flourish. We are also “fooled” into bonding with them through psychological techniques. It is therefore easy to pretend they are real.
I think this is worthy of further study. I think second life itself is worthy of further study.