What will we ask our robots to do? Image from The New Yorker

by George Taniwaki

Check out the illustration above by Tom Gauld on the cover of the May 20, 2019 issue of The New Yorker. It’s humorous because on first glance, it seems that it would be a waste if in the future we create robot dogs and robot humans for the sole purpose of having them exchange places.

But on further reflection, I think that response is wrong. Having robot dogs and robot dog walkers could both be solutions for people who like dogs. We dog owners (or previous dog owners, like me, since our beloved Wheatcakes died) like dogs because they get us out of the house. However, we are not home all the time and dogs gets bored and lonely.

For people in the middle-class who spend their day at work and not enough time at home, a robot dog might be the bourgeois solution to keep them active and outdoors. For the very rich, having a live dog and a robot to keep the dog company may be the Veblenesque solution to their desire to own a dog and to assuage their guilt about abandoning it.