Large Image Display: The Stepford Wives: Robo Dog 3000

This single frame is taken from the 2004 film 'The Stepford Wives'. It has been greatly reduced in size from the original, in order to meet fair use guidelines.

Here we see the lovable disaster area that is Robo Dog 3000. As we find out much later in the film, Robo is a cyborg, much like the other members of Stepford. A champion terrier's brain plus a minimal life support system, is hidden inside that shell, and hooked to considerable neuroprosthetics. This allows the dog to behave and think like a normal dog, whilst appearing to be fully robotic.

One of the many humourous aspects about the poor thing's situation is that whilst it has the memories of being an organic hound, its new robot body is not quite as flexible. Thus, when it tries to act, things don't always go as planned.

At one point in the film, a woman calls to Robo Rover 3000, and the puppy, wagging its tail, immediately runs forwards. Sadly it is at the top of the stairs when it does this, and it's limited freedom of movement does not correct for the stairs. Instead of walking down them, it steps off into space then topples forwards parabolically. Luckily its fall is broken by the poor dog's head, which connects with one of the top steps, before flipping over onto its back, where the rear of the dog connects with another step, followed by head again. All this time, the little legs are running frantically. Finally arriving on the floor at the foot of the steps, the little dog lays on it's side, unable to get up, legs and tail still moving, trying to stand. The woman lets out a laugh and tells others how cute this is, as the dog gives up and barks for help.

To an outside observer this is amusing, but to the poor dog, it must be hell. Having memories of a form that allowed so much freedom of movement, and now being trapped in this one, against its will. That may be why it is so determined to help Joanne; some semblance of memory of what has happened to it, and not wanting the same fate for her.

On a more practical note, the design is interesting, as it apes Sony's AIBO robot so closely.

When compared, the design similarity between the two is unmistakable, giving more than a hint of suggestion that Robo Rover 3000 is intended to poke fun at AIBO, as both are rather spectacular failures at being convincing artificial dogs. Still, Robo Rover's approach does seem more capable of producing dog-like behaviour, as it actually uses a dog's brain within that shell.

In fact, there is another source which utilises a dog's brain in an artificial shell in much the same way. The infamous VR book Snow Crash. That take was a bit different - trained attack dogs put into robotic killer shells, rather than trained prizewinning pets put into robotic bodies so that they would likely outlive their owners.

The sentimental bonuses of that last sentence cannot go uncommented on. One advantage to turning a dog into a cyborg to that extent, is that they can then become true lifelong companions. However, like so much else showcased in Stepford Wives, putting a mind into a cyborg body without that mind's consent, is a serious ethical mistake. Until we can verifiability get a dog's consent to do this to them, the image of a little kid having a dog who is with them until the kid is old and grey - a true lifetime companion - will remain, just an image.

Link: The Stepford Wives: Index of Stills

Link: The Stepford Wives (2004): A Plot Overview

Link: Site Shop > The Stepford Wives (2004)

Link: Co-Processors for the Mind: New Directions in AI

Link: AIBO: The Little Dog that Couldn't