HIGHTOWER: Aibo the Fido

You can buy a dog, but you can't buy the wag of its tail.

Anyone who believes that has not bought an Aibo. More specifically, this new, Japanese "breed" of dog is the Aibo ERS-210. Aibo, which is Japanese for "pal," actually is an acronym that stands for Artificial Intelligence Robot. The New York Times notes that this virtual pet, made by Sony, is a plastic puppy with a 32-bit RISC processor and 32 megabytes of memory for a brain, a color camera for eyes, stereo microphones for its ears, a synthesizer for making sounds, gyroscopes for balance ... and a small motor to wag that tail. You can buy it all for only $1,500.

Well, $1,500 only gets you the basic dog. To make it do its thing, you have to buy memory sticks that include "personality modules" and are inserted into the belly of the beast, costing $90 each. This digital dog will then develop a digital personality based on its devoted owner spending some 40 hours to teach it to walk, respond to commands, do tricks, play with a pink ball, and do other doggie things. The thing even expresses moods, with its eyes and tail lighting up and blinking in different colors. Sony instructs us, though, that Aibo is a sophisticated "companion" for adults, warning that it is not a toy and must be kept away from children.

So, who wants a robotic rover? Apparently, more than 42,000 people do. That's how many have bought so far, plus they have Aibo clubs and hold regional get-togethers. Who are these people? The Times reports that many Aibo owners are apartment dwellers who aren't allowed or don't want to keep "fuzzy dogs," as the Aibo crowd calls the real-live animal.

This is Jim Hightower saying ... I think some people have too much money and too little of a life. Still ... this is a "puppy" that won't poop on your carpet, and it comes with something many real dog owners might wish they had: an off button.


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