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My wife and I had been debating about whether to adopt a cat.
There wasn't complete agreement. Or any, really.
Suddenly, I received an email whose subject line was so promising: "A lifelike robot cat powered by AI, because why not?"
Why not, indeed? Everything will soon be robotic, to one extent or another. Even our very selves. Why not see what it's like to live with a being that is, according to its makers, "a lifelike pet designed to offset loneliness for the elderly and provide companionship for couples, children, and families."
Elephant Robotics insists its metaCat has a "realistic ragdoll appearance." I worried about the words "realistic" and "ragdoll" being in such proximity. I'd never seen dolls that were especially realistic, but I caught on that this ragdoll is a breed of cat. It is, so the experts at Wikipedia tell me, a breed that is "best known for its docile, placid temperament, and affectionate nature."
Well, let me tell you. Look at this cat. It has the sort of piercing blue eyes that could freeze a priest. Even the one in The Exorcist. Every time it looked at me, I felt as if I'd offended an authoritarian government. Or a lover with no sense of humor. I was afraid of what this cat would do next. Leap at me? Headbutt me? Zap me with some hidden AI-powered laser gun?
This metaCat is never happy. Rather like Mark Zuckerberg's face.
Of course, it has its positive moments. If you stroke it, there is a purring, a meowing, and an odd head movement. Its tail wags a little too. It also sheds. The creators are keen to point to the startling benefits -- no cat litter, no cat shower, no cat digging its nails into your thigh to get your attention.
They insist that metaCat enjoys food-grade silica gel and synthetic fur -- is there really food-grade synthetic fur? I had no idea -- that's "safe to the touch and allergy-friendly." I don't know about safe to the touch. I was afraid of touching this thing, in case its blue eyes hid a dark heart.
My wife took the metaCat to a Microsoft Teams meeting. Because that's what people do with their cats, right? I regret to say, one of the meeting participants used the word "demonic."
I decided to persevere. I decided to reconnect. Perhaps, I thought, it would recognize me when I walked into the room. It didn't. Perhaps I could turn it over and give it belly rubs. I tried. Nothing happened, other than a slight feeling of absurdity on my part. In essence, then, this felt like a prototype waiting for a more sophisticated and friendlier version to emerge.
It could be, though, that the $240 you'd have to spend on a metaCat may give your kids endless minutes of pleasure. Or even seconds.