Our minds on media.

Musings on the effects of media on cognition.

American Consumers Prefer Robots, Not Toys

Via Cognews I found “Robot Consumers, Grow Up!” by Lance Ulanoff. His basic premise is that the more that robots look like real humans or animals, the more put off the American consumer is by it. But I couldn’t disagree more with this analysis, and there’s a very different way of looking at it. American consumers are some of the most risk-taking consumers in the world. A simple fact of the American economy is that we like new things—a great deal of our economic growth depends on this. However, we do demand of our products that they prove actually useful (or wildly entertaining). $350 toys, regardless of their complexity (or how much they look like dinosaurs) don’t interest us as much as a robot that can actually vacuum the floor. From my personal point of view, an AIBO gets less bang for buck compared to a wind-up toy. And I’m not underestimating it’s complexity, as Ulanoff would argue—that the Aibo is complex is a given. But complexity for the sake of what? What does it do that a virtually free dog from the animal shelter doesn’t?

Who cares what it looks like as long as it can do the job? American consumers aren’t put off by humanoid robots; the problem with all humanoid robots is that they are little more than very expensive toys at this point. The humanoid form-factor is really only useful if you’re smart enough to use it (which doesn’t necessarily imply human-level intelligence–just a lot). Until such a time, useful robots will remain tanks and frisbees and all the better because they can actually do labor that way (instead of falling down the stairs).

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