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Robo-dogs and therapy bots: Artificial intelligence goes cuddly


As pandemic-led isolation triggers an epidemic of loneliness, Japanese are increasingly turning to "social robots" for solace and mental healing. At the city's Penguin Cafe, proud owners of the electronic dog Aibo gathered recently with their cyber-pups in Snuglis and fancy carryalls. From camera-embedded snouts to their sensor-packed paws, these high-tech hounds are nothing less than members of the family, despite a price tag of close to $3,000 -- mandatory cloud plan not included. It's no wonder Aibo has pawed its way into hearts and minds. Re-launched in 2017, Aibo's artificial intelligence-driven personality is minutely shaped by the whims and habits of its owner, building the kind of intense emotional attachments usually associated with kids, or beloved pets. Noriko Yamada rushed to order one, when her mother-in-law began showing signs of dementia several years ago.