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Tag: computer

“Oh, you are so good:” Virtual dog offers “unconditional love” to elderly

Meet GeriJoy. He’s a virtual dog. He’s a talking dog. He’s even described as “a compassionate” dog.

He was developed by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to be an interactive companion for older people with dementia or memory problems, serving to provide what his makers call “continual stimulation.”

We’d be the first to recite all the wondrous things contact with a dog can do for the old, lonely, troubled and institutionalized and, using my own father as an example, we have, repeatedly.

But there’s something about GeriJoy, noble as the idea may be, that I find a little bit patronizing, a little bit insulting, and highly phony. His creation also seems an awfully circuitous and robotic route to take to provide a virtual experience with an animated creature when the real thing is so abundantly available.

Clearly, I’m cynical, or at least wary, when it comes to technology — and perhaps more. It was only yesterday, after all,  that I cruelly bashed soft and fuzzy stuffed animals.

gerijoy-300x170My point, then and now, is that, unlike with sugar, there is no substitute for the real thing when it comes to dogs.

Despite that, techno-wizards keep trying, intent, it seems, on trying to capture a no-shed, no-drool, no bark, no worries version of dog — be it stuffed, virtual, or mechanical — and then convince you that their inanimate, or animated, object will love you unconditionally forever.

The truth is, close as they might come — and cloning probably comes closest — they never will. Ha ha. Take that.

If GeriJoy, the virtual dog, is making some old person happy, even if it’s a delusional kind of happy, we’re all for it. If it’s being used as a substitute for human attention, we’re not. With all the growth in and demands on senior services and facilities for the elderly, there’s a tendency to look for quick and easy shortcuts, when the keys to doing job right are already obvious — caring staff, ample staff, staff with hearts.

And maybe some dogs — real dogs.

What I’d rather see is not a nursing home where dozens of residents are lined up in wheelchairs, stroking animated images on their hand held devices, but one that’s taking advantage of programs — or even creating some — in which dog ownership among residents is encouraged, and assistance with those dogs is provided; ones where dogs live under communal ownership, or short of that, therapy dogs visit regularly; one that’s investing in building a qualified and caring staff, as opposed to investing in devices that substitute for real human, or dog, contact.

Here’s how the GeriJoy website touts the product: “Have an older loved one who is lonely and suffers from dementia or geriatric depression? GeriJoy can help. We provide talking pets that are intelligent, compassionate, and available 24/7 to talk about anything, including photos and updates from family.”

The virtual dog can be displayed on a computer or other Internet-connected device. The virtual dog, the website claims, ”provides all the availability and unconditional love of an adorable pet, combined with the ability to talk with true intelligence and compassion … It’s as if it lives inside a picture frame, so you get the benefits of pet therapy without any smells, allergies, cleaning up, bites, or food and veterinary bills.”

The virtual dog can provide around the clock stimulation, his developers say, and, in the video snippet above, GeriJoy certainly sounds stimulating, or stimulated, almost orgasmically so. “Oh, you’re so good,” GeriJoy coos as an elderly man strokes the image on the screen.

We’re not sure if that’s what GeriJoy told the Senate Special Committee on Aging’s Healthy Aging Forum this month when he appeared before it. He’ll also be on exhibit at the AARP Health Innovation@50+ Tech Expo on May 31 at the Las Vegas Convention Center, according to the AARP blog.

To get GeriJoy, one must subscribe, and pay from $99 to $129 a month. The hardware costs up to $349 for the most sophisticated, Internet-connected version.

GeriJoy was co-founded by Victor Wang, a former Canadian Army officer who did research on human-machine interaction for NASA while at MIT. He says he was inspired to develop the virtual dog by his grandmother in Taiwan, who became depressed while she was living alone.

Wang says GeriJoy can even serve as a watchdog. In one case, a user’s human caregiver was being verbally abusive, and GeriJoy “contacted the user’s daughter to let her know about it.”

“Whatever your loved one wants to know, the companion can find out and report back,” the website says. “It can send and receive messages and photos between you and your loved one, also via the Internet. All this is done through the intuitive metaphor of a talking dog. Your loved one doesn’t even need to know what a computer is.”

We don’t care if the day comes when a virtual dog can cook dinner, push a wheelchair, administer medications or help you understand your health insurance.

A real dog is better — even with his shedding and drooling. Real dogs bring one into, and keep one in, the moment. Real dogs can help you keep a grip on reality, as opposed to pulling you into fantasy land. And real dogs offer a true form of love and validation — even if they can’t say, at least with words, “Oh, you are so good.”

AT&T unveils collar that will track your dog

peterclarkcollage1

 
A dog collar that will allow pet owners to map their pets’ location on their computer or other wireless devices will soon be hitting the market, Apisphere, Inc.  and AT&T announced.

“The dog collar, with an embedded wireless SIM, will leverage Apisphere’s award winning geo-mobility platform to transmit location-aware data across AT&T’s nationwide wireless network directly to a pet owner’s wireless handset or personal computer,” according to an AT&T press release

In other words, what the communications company is saying, I think, is that the new gizmo will tell you where your dog is.

Apisphere is a provider of “location-smart technologies” for mobile applications and devices.

Pet owners who use the technology will be instructed to register their pets and important contacts as soon as they attach the collar. Owners may establish a “geo-fence” around the home where the pet can roam freely. Through the technology, owners can locate their dog if he strays outside of his established parameters.

Apisphere software will transmit street level data for easy pet location. Owners will have the option to program text, email, video or audio alerts, to be distributed as often as they like.

“There are few things as important to my daughter as knowing the whereabouts of our dog,” said Glenn Lurie, president, AT&T Emerging Devices, Resale and Partnerships. “The peace of mind that a wirelessly connected collar will bring my family and pet owners across the country is long overdue. We’re extremely excited about this product and its possibilities.”

Pricing, distribution, and design details of the collar will be made available at launch, expected later this year.

(Art: From Peterclarkcollage.com)

The astounding “animals” of “Avatar”

Contrary to what many, including PETA, might think , animals were used in the making of “Avatar” — but none were harmed, according to the American Humane Association.

“American Humane applauds ‘Avatar’ director James Cameron and the production for earning our highest rating by ensuring the safety of the animals used in the filming,” said Karen Rosa, vice president of American Humane’s Film & TV Unit.

While PETA has recognized the film and its director for using computer-generated images instead of live animals, American Humane says filmmakers also used live animals for motion capture, and explains the process on its website.

“This film was created using motion capture technology, in which performers wear miniature computerized motion sensors near joints and facial areas to capture the movements and facial muscle nuances that occur with each gesture, motion or expression. The live action was performed in a motion capture studio covered in dark fabric and carpet  and then recorded as computer animation data, which was then mapped onto a computerized 3-D model.

“In this technology, humans wear a bodysuit for the ‘capture,’ but animals need to be ‘captured’ differently because of their body shapes, fur and other characteristics. To prepare the animals for having their motion data recorded, trainers shaved small areas of fur or hair where the movements would be recorded, such as near joints and on the face. Velcro pads were attached to the shaved spots with a nontoxic, nonirritating silicone adhesive. White light-reflective balls were placed onto the Velcro to capture the motion data onto the computer. The exception to this was horses’ tails, which were not shaved, but wrapped in a sensor-laden material. The adhesive and any additional markings were washed off each evening after filming ended.

“Throughout the film, horses are seen outdoors standing or being ridden at a walk, canter or gallop. We also see people mounting, dismounting and falling off horses. These scenes were all filmed inside the capture studio. Horses were given ample room to start and stop running. …For scenes in which horses appear to be near fire, trainers cued them to ‘dance’ or act skittish or afraid — the horses were not actually agitated nor were they ever near fire.”

American Humane monitors the use of animals in movies, and, when merited, bestows the trademark “No animals were harmed in the making of this film” certifcation.

American Humane encourages moviemakers to use computer generated images to increase safety.

“If, upon review of the script, American Humane believes there to be any dangerous animal action, American Humane will strongly encourage simulating the action through the use of computer-generated images, animatronics or fake animal doubles to minimize the risk of injury to animals,” the organization’s guidelines state.

There’s more than one way to skin a frog

frog dissection

Holy Formaldehyde! Times are changing. As of this fall, thousands of Catholic school students in the Philadelphia area can opt out of that once mandatory, highly stinky rite of passage — dissecting a frog in biology class.

The  Archdiocese of Philadelphia has established a policy under which students in its 20 high schools who have concerns about traditional animal dissection are allowed to use alternatives to frogs, cats and other actual animals.

As an increasing number of high schools and universities are realizing, there are plenty of options to cutting up an animal, and students can learn just as much about biology through models and computer graphics.

“As the 21st century evolves, greater use of virtual dissection experiences will be encouraged and eventually replace the use of scientifically preserved animals,” said Mary E. Rochford, Superintendent of Schools for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. “With the availability of virtual lab experiences and other Internet instructional tools, students can arrive at the same learning.”

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s policy is modeled after the Pennsylvania Students Rights Option, a law established in 1992, which enables public and non-public students from grades K-12 who do not want to harm animals as part of their coursework to use an alternative instead.

You can learn more about the Pennsylvania law here.

“The Archdiocese’s student choice policy can serve as a model for other schools in the state of Pennsylvania, in addition to other dioceses across the U.S,” said Laura Ducceschi, Director of Animalearn, a project of the American Anti-Vivisection Society.

Tens of thousands of cats, frogs, and other animals are killed annually, specifically for dissection and other educational purposes, despite available alternatives and studies showing that students learn as well or better by using virtual dissection and other humane alternatives, according to Animalearn.

Animalearn’s website offers a searchable database of over 450 alternatives to dissection, downloadable software, and other humane science tools. A free resource to students and teachers nationwide, The Science Bank offers interactive models, videos, and virtual dissection CD-ROMs and DVDs.

Pigeon tops broadband in data transfer

pigeonYet more proof that technology is for the birds: Carrier pigeons are being used to transfer data between offices because bosses believe it is quicker than broadband.

Computer experts at a South African firm said it took six hours to transfer four gigabytes of encrypted data to a call center 50 miles away.

Unlimited Group, a financial services company, yesterday attached a memory card to the leg of a pigeon called Winston who took just over an hour for the trip, according to the Daily Mail.

Even counting the time needed to upload the data once it arrives, the information shipped by pigeon took under three hours, less than half of what using the Internet — at least in Durban, South Africa — could accomplish.

“It might sound crazy in this day and age, but we’re always looking for new ways to move our business forward and we think this might just work,” said Kevin Rolfe, head of  Unlimited Group. ”For years we’ve struggled with the internet as a method of communication. It’s fine for emails and correspondence, but we need to transfer a lot of data from office to another and find it often lets us down.”

To send four gigabytes of encrypted information takes around six hours on a good day, he said, up to two days if the weather is bad and the service goes down.

“We started looking at other ways to solve the problem and discovered that carrier pigeons could do the job a lot more quickly.”

“If Winston can do the job as efficiently then we’d be silly not to think about using him instead — especially as he’ll only cost us a little of bird seed to run,” Rolfe added.

Toshiba announces laptop computer for dogs

Just in time for April Fools, Toshiba has introduced the PetBook K9 — the world’s first laptop computer for dogs.

With a “delicious and durable organic rawhide casing,” a 3.3 megapixel doggie cam for inter-canine video conferencing and bark to text software (included), the PetBook is protected against saliva by special SlobberGuard technology.

You can find all the details here.

Porn-watching hound in Super Bowl ad

I never knew this, but up in Canada they use their own ads during the Super Bowl.

Canadian stations buy the rights to air the Super Bowl in Canada, then sell the commercial advertising slots to Canadian advertisers.

Here’s one that aired up north for Autohound, an online used car dealership, featuring a basset hound with a thing for doggie porn. In another ad for the same company, the bassett hound gets on the computer to watch Greyhound racing.

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