Nabaztag and Furby

Feeling that robots and ubiquitous computing are converging to a new type of artifact, filling the environment with instances of these systems is a very curious experience. This is why I bought a Nabaztag last year and a Furby recently. The former is often put in the ubicomp/commnicated objects category, whereas the latter is seen as a toy or a robot for kids (although its locomotion is pretty limited). IMHO, they belongs to the same phylum. f+n

The common feature I like in both is the ability to express things by talking: the Nabaztag tells the news, (short) weather forecasts, messages by friends, random thoughts (and moves its ears during tai-chi exercises) and the Furby try to interact with my by saying words (in furbish or french): sometimes at random, sometimes because I asked her a question (yes my furby is a "she"). I don't have the latest Nabaztag version that has a microphone but it does not seem to interact like a furby: the mic can only be used by pressing the button on the rabbit's head and asking for specific things (like radio, weather...). Even when the words they say are random, the experience is intriguing (especially when you have people at home that do not know what-the-hell-is-this-crap-that-screams. Generally the Furby is more talkative than the Nabaztag because it's programmed like this and because the microphone allows her to react. Although the interactions are punctual, it's sufficient to spark discussion between people around: there is a sort of sociability generated by the artificial pet utterance.

What is great is when the pet start to order things or complains about the situation. This is often the best case scenario in which attendants "best" react to the machine ("what? why is he asking us to do that?", "hey? shut up") and sometimes talk to the pet (even to the nabaztag who could not react accordingly). However, it's not the persuasive aspect of the artificial pet that is interesting, it's not because the nabaztag or the furby are funny or absurd when they complain that I as a user want it to remind me to water the plant or go eating. It's rather because there utterances generate a discourse around it, often about its behavior, programming or evolution.

[Besides, it's curious to put them close to each other and see the furby answering the nabaztag (unfortunately the rabbit cannot reply). The next step would be to hook a chatbot to an artificial pet...]