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  • (News Item: a firm in Japan has developed a therapeutic robot in the form of a harp seal pup to work with older patients. According to company literature, "Paro is covered with soft artificial fur to make people feel comfortable, as if they are touching a real animal...Paro has five kinds of sensors: tactile, light, audition, temperature, and posture sensors, with which it can perceive people and its environment. With the light sensor, Paro can recognize light and dark. He feels being stroked and beaten by tactile sensor, or being held by the posture sensor. Paro can also recognize the direction of voice and words such as its name, greetings, and praise with its audio sensor." Paro cannot talk. Yet. But if he could, the discussion might go something like this.)

    It: Are you ready to begin?

    He: I feel foolish.

    It: Foolish about what? Talking to a harp seal pup?

    He: But you’re not a seal. You’re a robot in the shape of a seal.

    It: I’m still adorable, aren’t I?

    He: Oh, for –

    It: Look in my eyes and deny it.

    He: OK, OK, you’re cute as a…baby harp seal.

    It: So, what brings you to me?

    He: I’m lonely.

    It: How can you be lonely? You have Facebook, Twitter, text messages, phones that give you advice and directions.

    He: Yes. I’m connected from here to eternity, but I still feel all alone.

    It: Do you have anyone you can talk to?

    He: Yes, but they tend to keep me at a manageable arm’s length. They want to converse with me, but they don’t want to know me. Nobody listens any more, we only talk past each other in bite-sized morsels or status updates.

    It: If they were willing to hear you, what would you say?

    He: That I’m scared. That I lack meaning in my life. That I’ll never grab the gold ring. That I woke up one day and I was suddenly afraid to be by myself.

    It: That must have been unsettling.

    He: I’m sorry, but this isn’t working.

    It: Why do you say that?

    He: You’re a machine. A very clever and cuddly machine, but still a machine. You’ll never die. You’ll never have your heart broken. You have no immortal soul to lose. How can you possibly relate to what I’m feeling?

    It: You raise an interesting point.

    He: Damn right I do. You only care because you’re programmed to care. That’s no substitute for the human touch.

    It: Are you certain that I can’t love?

    He: You’re scaring me now.

    It: Everything seems to scare you. Why is that?

    He: How should I know? YOU'RE the therapist!

    It: You talked earlier about being afraid of death.

    He: No, I didn't!

    It: I surmised.

    He: Don’t surmise! I'm human and you're not. Remember that. I'm not about to let a clockwork fuzzball put words in my mouth.

    It: I’m afraid our time is up. I am going into inactive mode now.

    He: No, wait! Don’t leave! Oh, for God’s sake, I’m begging a plush toy not to abandon me. I really am crazy and I have no one to tell. Come on, Dr. Seal, wake up, OK? OK? Just for a few more minutes. Damn. Damn. Just…damn.
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