TOKYO -- The average lifespan of Japanese women rose in 2013 to 86.61 years, up from 86.41 the year before, according to data released late last week by the Japanese health ministry. This makes Japan's LOLs (little old ladies) the world's longest-living females for the second straight year.
Aibo is on the right.
Japan's rapidly aging population is prompting the nation to evaluate medical technology, rethink its healthcare system, and invest in the private/public service infrastructure.
I don't think I'm alone in worrying about Japan's future, in which the number of people 65 and over is forecast to reach nearly 40 percent of the population by 2060. That's a lot of gray hair.
Similarly, Japan daily discovers more unintended consequences associated with the aging population of pet robots.
It's hard enough to see your parents age. It's equally hard to see your pet robot grow old.
Sony, inventor of Aibo, the nation's first "entertainment robot," announced back in 2006 that it would discontinue making pet robots. Why? The Japanese company wanted to focus on its "core" business, and Sony then (and still now) badly needed to restore its profitability.
Sony's R&D team, headed up by Toshitada Doi, pioneered the world's most robust entertainment robot platform. Aibo was recognized as the most sophisticated product ever offered in the consumer robot marketplace. A total of 150,000 units of Aibo have been sold. But all that success, especially in the eyes of the corporation's bean counters, didn't make Aibo Sony's core business.
When a machine becomes human
What Sony and, for that matter, the whole electronics industry, didn't anticipate was the impact of the end-of-life product cycle on a machine that has genuinely become a member of its family.
Most consumers replace smartphones every few years, even if they're still "alive." But nobody does that with their dog. Watching your pet age is painful. Even worse, when you find out that the vet can't help any longer: There are no spare parts or components that plug into a dog with a broken hip or a cat with cancer.
What follows is a story I heard from a relative who heads up a special operational team to answer calls from owners of Aibo. The mission is critical, especially today, because, as of July 2014, Sony no longer repairs Aibo products.
Next page: Hokuto's story