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.”
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.
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.”
Posted by jwoestendiek May 24th, 2013 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: aarp, aging, animals, animated, app, assisted living, computer, dementia, dog, dogs, elderly, gerijoy, health, image, internet, memory, mit, nursing homes, pets, talking, technology, unconditional love, virtual, virtual dog
In fact, he’d prefer it if you’d keep your dog to yourself — out of the park he wants to read in, away from the cafe where he enjoys his Frappuccino, and definitely not in the gym in which he works out.
It was a case of the latter that triggered a well-written, semi-playful, anti-dog diatribe he wrote for Slate last week.
Manjoo argued that dogs are getting too many privileges. He pointed out that not everybody enjoys their presence, cited health hazards they could conceivably pose, and suggested all those people who take their dogs everywhere start leaving them at home.
Not sharing one’s dog? To me, that’s the equivalent of hiding a Van Gogh behind an ironing board in the basement. Or putting a newfound cure for cancer in a time capsule. Or shielding your eyes — just to be safe — from a blazing sunset.
Still, we’d defend Manjoo’s preference to live life without somebody else’s dog in his face. That’s his right. It’s his loss, but it’s also his right.
Manjoo is Slate‘s technology columnist and the author of True Enough: Learning To Live in a Post-Fact Society. So it doesn’t surprise me — he being caught up in all things digital — that he has failed to catch on to or be captivated by the wonder of dogs.
Microchipping aside, dogs and technology are best kept separate. They don’t always get along, maybe because they are the antithesis of each other. Technology may be the cure for everything, but dogs are the cure for technology. We’ll get back to this point, but first let’s look at what Manjoo said — after an unwanted encounter with a Doberman inside his gym.
“The dog came up to me, because in my experience that’s what dogs do when you don’t want them to come up to you. They get up real close, touching you, licking you, theatrically begging you to respond… I guess I was fairly sure he wouldn’t snap and bite me, but stranger things have happened — for instance, dogs snapping and biting people all the time.
“Why was this dog here? And why was no one perturbed that this dog was here?
“…No one was asking because no one could ask. Sometime in the last decade, dogs achieved dominion over urban America. They are everywhere now, allowed in places that used to belong exclusively to humans, and sometimes only to human adults: the office, restaurants, museums, buses, trains, malls, supermarkets, barber shops, banks, post offices… Dogs are frequently allowed to wander off leash, to run toward you and around you, to run across the baseball field or basketball court, to get up in your grill. Even worse than the dogs are the owners, who seem never to consider whether there may be people in the gym/office/restaurant/museum who do not care to be in close proximity to their dogs. …”
Manjoo admits to not being a dog person, but at least — unlike most anti-dog types — he has a sense of humor about it.
“It’s not that I actively despise mutts; I just don’t have much time for them, in the same way I don’t have time for crossword puzzles or Maroon 5,” he writes.
“But here’s my problem: There’s now a cultural assumption that everyone must love dogs. Dog owners are rarely forced to reckon with the idea that there are people who aren’t enthralled by their furry friends, and that taking their dogs everywhere might not be completely pleasant for these folks.”
And seldom, he points out, does anyone whose dog accosts him say they’re sorry.
“… I can promise you she won’t apologize for the imposition. Nor will she ask you if you mind her dog doing what he’s doing. Nor will she pull on its leash, because there won’t be a leash, this being an office, where dogs are as welcome as Wi-Fi and free coffee.”
The same holds true, he notes, at coffee houses.
Here we should point out that the dog pictured atop this post is mine, and that, in the photo, Ace is enjoying an iced coffee product at Starbucks, offered to him by a customer whose behavior indicated she wanted him to visit her table.
When I take Ace to a Starbucks, or most anywhere else, it’s usually pretty apparent who wants to meet him and who doesn’t, and I restrain him accordingly. I don’t have to compile any data or crunch any numbers, I can just tell. It’s not brain surgery, or computer science.
Even though most people go to Starbucks for the free Wi-Fi, or the expensive coffee, I’d estimate about one of two customers wants to meet my dog. Ace — and this isn’t true of every dog — has a way of figuring that out himself, and generally will avoid those who show no interest in him, unless they are in the process of eating a muffin or pastry, in which case he’s willing to overlook the fact they may not be dog lovers.
What makes the numbers even more impressive is that 8 of every 10 customers at your typical Starbucks are under the spell of their computer device and not at all cognizant of what’s going on around them.
Ace is sometimes able to break that spell, at least he does for me.
As for me, I’d rather have access to Fido then Wi-Fi anyday. Fido will soothe me. Wi-Fi will likely, at some point, make me angry and frustrated. Fido will focus me. Wi-Fi will distract me. Wi-Fi will accost me with uninvited and intrusive messages, and send me alerts, and remind me of all the things I need to do today. Fido will remind me all those things aren’t really that important and can wait until tomorrow. Wi-Fi will take me out of the moment; Fido will keep me in it. Wi-fi has no soul. Fido does, and his presence allows our souls – those of us who have them — to be refreshed. Dogs keep us from becoming an entirely manic society.
No one, if I have my laptop on, will want to come up and pet it, except maybe Farhad Manjoo, who — while not having the least bit of interest in my dog — is probably curious about my gigabytes and apps.
On this much I will agree with Manjoo: There are dog owners who seem unaware that not everybody will delight in their dog, oblivious to the fact that some might find their dog annoying and intrusive. Similarly, though, there are parents of children who don’t realize not everybody will delight in their antics. Similarly, too, there are grown-up people who fail to realize that they themselves are annoying and who we’d prefer not to have inflicted upon us.
Unfortunately, we can’t just ban them. Our choices are limited. We could work on being tolerant – of all ages, sizes, shapes and species, despite their noise, intrusiveness and abrasiveness levels. Or we could go somewhere else. Or we could complain.
Sometimes, when visiting a Starbucks or other coffee place, I wonder if I should lodge an official complaint with management about Wi-Fi — objecting to its omnipresence, and how it seems to be turning people into keyboard-pushing zombies.
“No,” I’d say, “I’m not technically allergic to it, but I’m uncomfortable with it near. I’ve had some bad experiences with it. Sometimes it bites people when they least expect it, and I’m pretty sure it harbors germs.”
“But it’s wireless,” the manager might say.
“Exactly,” I’d say with a huff. “Put a leash on it.”
Posted by jwoestendiek May 14th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, apps, behavior, cell phones, coffee, common sense, computers, culture, devices, digital, dislike, dog, dog friendly, dogs, dominion, farhad manjoo, fear, gyms, hate, laptops, leash, leashed, love, manners, parks, pets, place, privileges, public, rights, slate, society, starbucks, technology, unleashed
In our eighth month of bouncing about this expansive and expensive country, Ace and I seemed headed for our most frugal stretch yet – thanks mainly to lucking out and finding some free housing upon our return to Baltimore.
For the first time, in our continuing effort to see America while spending less than what we were while sedentary and housed – about $1,500 for rent, food and utilities – we were looking at a three digit number instead of four.
Now, thanks to my stupidity, and with an assist from Verizon, we’ve blown it, and somebody has some explaining to do.
Before we left on our journey, I canceled my home Internet service (through Verizon) and signed up for wireless mobile broadband (through a different part of Verizon), allowing us to get online no matter where we were for $59 a month – the package they suggested for a heavy user.
It worked pretty great. There were only two or three locations in our 22,000 miles of travels, where service was non-existent or spotty.
I was so pleased, I even eventually sent Verizon the payment they were seeking from me for home Internet service for the month following the date I moved out of my house. It was basically a choice between paying the money I didn’t really owe, being regularly harassed by the credit agency to which they turned the matter over, or spending far too much time on the phone, holding and then some, to try and straighten it out.
All was going smoothly with my wireless mobile broadband — or so I thought until last week, when Verizon informed me that for the past two months I’d gone over monthly limit, and that I owed them more than $400. Read more »
Posted by jwoestendiek February 14th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: a team, access, baltimore, bills, broadband, budget, chat, communications, device, dog's country, dogscountry, expenses, free, frugality, gigabytes, giggedtybyes, hold, hot spot, house, household, hulu, internet, limits, maryland, mobile, money, on hold, overages, savings, techno-whipped, technology, television, travel, traveling, traveling with dogs, travels with ace, tv, tv on the internet, tv watching, verizon, verizon wireless, website, wi-fi, wireless
It was 117 degrees.
Which normally would be a good argument for not going back to Phoenix, after completing our swing through northern Arizona and Utah. But, as it’s home to my brother and father, and I’d left some of my baggage there — the physical kind, with zippers and handles and pouches in which to put things and then forget them — we returned.
Also, I had to pick up some ohmidog! materials I’d ordered online and had sent to my brother’s home — some new business cards and magnet signs that allowed me to turn my regular old, overloaded, as of yesterday officially paid off Jeep Liberty into …
I figured, with all the ground we’re covering, why not do a little advertising for the old website? Now my fellow motorists can see my ohmidog! sign, maybe even remember that it’s spelled o-h-m-i-d-o-g, and look it up online when they get back to the comfort and convenience of their homes — if not sooner.
In hopes of keeping my big magnet sign from being ripped off, I also attached some little magnet cards to which people can help themselves.
We’re giving the ohmidogmobile! its first test this week, as we drive back to Santa Fe for a weeklong pet-sitting gig at the home of some friends. I’ll be taking care of their three dogs in exchange for getting to use their home, and hold wild parties in it, while they’re gone on a trip to New York.
We’ve made a few decisions — holding wild parties not actually being among them – regarding our continuing journey. We still have no solid plans — that would be wrong — but we’ve decided to try and stay on the road for six months. We’ll start heading back east after Santa Fe, work our way to the Atlantic Ocean, dip our toes in it, maybe check back in on Baltimore, and then head back west again on a more northerly route, zigging and zagging — but mostly zagging — across the U.S. for another four months, plus.
Why? Because we gave up the old homestead. Because job offers aren’t pouring in. But mainly because we love it — I’m sure I do, I think Ace does – and I’m thinking it might be worth writing about someday in a form other than blogging.
Not that we have anything against blogging. I wonder though. Would John Steinbeck — our inspiration for this trip — have blogged? As he crossed America with his poodle Charley, would he — were the technology available — have sought out power sources, logged into his computer and jumped on Facebook? Or would he have viewed it all as a massive waste of time — time that could have spent connecting face-to-face with fellow humans? How shameful would it have been, in retrospect, if John Steinbeck, rather than writing “Grapes of Wrath” and “Of Mice and Men,” was spending his time composing html, fighting off hackers and Tweeting what he ate for dinner?
(Which reminds me, I had some excellent dim sum the other day, including several dishes I couldn’t identify, at C-Fu Gourmet, a Chinese restaurant opened in Chandler by Ron Lou, a former professonal football player.)
In 1961, when Steinbeck made his three-month trip with his dog, he was marveling at things like vending machines that dispensed soda with ice, and hot cups of soup and coffee, and at a cutting edge form of housing known as mobile homes. Technology has dizzyingly and exponentially advanced since then, not so much saving us time and effort as giving us new headaches and making us more dependent on that which we don’t really understand.
John Steinbeck, for instance, didn’t have a malfunction indicator light on Rocinante, the name he gave his camper truck. He couldn’t Google in search of dog-friendly lodgings. He couldn’t check in with loved ones by cell phone, order pizza online, or turn to Mapquest to figure out how far he could get by when. On the other hand, he didn’t have to worry about Internet connections, or keep track of what needed recharging. Something always does — cellphone, camera, voice recorder, computer, myself.
I don’t fancy myself a modern-day Steinbeck. I’m not traveling with a bottle of applejack to share with those I encounter on the road. I’m not even sure what applejack is. (I could Google it, and get an instant answer. But instant answers, on top of often being wrong, can suck the mystery out of life. What fun is going over that next hill, around that next curve, when you already know what will be there?)
But I am a huge Steinbeck fan. So I was pretty excited when, on a return visit to my father’s house, he managed to dig up a letter he once received from Steinbeck — in connection with an article Newsday was doing at the time. It was mailed the year before Steinbeck and Charley departed on their trip.
In re-reading the book for the fourth time — like driving a familiar road, I get something new out of it each time — I’ve come to the conclusion that, while I’m no John Steinbeck, my dog Ace is a far more interesting canine than Charley.
This week we push on, eastwardly — though we’ll definitely be back this way again to see some people and write about some things we missed. Meantime, we’re in search of new hills, new vistas, new dogs, new folks, new mystery, new people to freeload off of … and maybe some applejack.
(To read all of “Dog’s Country,” from the beginning, click here.)
Posted by jwoestendiek July 6th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace does america, america, animals, applejack, blogging, charley, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, facebook, google, john steinbeck, lodging, mapquest, motels, mystery, ohmidog!, pets, road trip, steinbeck, technology, travel, traveling, traveling with dogs, travels with charley, twitter
His own dog’s DNA helped convict a reputed gang member in south London of the murder of a 16-year-old.
Oluwaseyi Ogunyemi was killed in a “vicious” attack by a gang of youths who set upon him and his friends with their dogs. One of the dogs, a Staffordshire bull terrier-bull mastiff cross called Tyson, brought Ogunyemi down as he tried to climb over a fence, after which the youth was stabbed six times by its owner Chrisdian Johnson.
Johnson was arrested as he fled the scene of the murder last April, bare-chested and covered in blood.
New DNA technology proved by a billion-to-one probability that some of the blood on Johnson came from his dog Tyson, who had been knifed during the fighting. The rest came from Ogunyemi.
Johnson was also found guilty of the attempted murder of Seyi’s 17-year-old friend Hurui Hiyabum, whom he stabbed nine times.
Scientists used DNA profiling to prove that samples collected during the investigation were a billion times more likely to come from two specific dogs involved in the attack than any other animals, the BBC reported.
Police hailed the dog DNA technology, which had just been developed at the time of the murder, as a “hugely powerful investigative tool”.
Posted by jwoestendiek March 19th, 2010 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: animal, attack, beating, chrisdian johnson, convicted, courts, crime, dna, dogs, gang, gangs, guilty, investigation, law, london, mauling, member, murder, news, oluwaseyi ogunyemi, pets, pit bulls, stabbing, technology, tyson, verdict