A few weeks ago, writing in The Guardian, Emily White suggested that “loneliness might be the next great moneyspinner”. Another article spoke about the “uber-loneliness of the sharing economy driver.” Without an actual boss to interact with, drivers on apps like Uber were resorting to other means to stay connected with real people and create a community.

White's article concluded thus:

In a decade or so, paying for connection may seem as ordinary as paying for therapy. The companionship market will make us uncomfortable, and we’ll criticise it, but it will persist. The need for social connection is too primal: if it’s the market that’s offering us the chance to walk and talk with someone who seems like a friend, we’ll be heading towards it, not turning away.

And the market does seem to be responding regardless of the creepy undertones.

“He wobbles a bit, and this is meant to emulate a seated baby, which hasn’t fully developed the skills to balance itself,” Fuminori Kataoka, Kirobo Mini’s chief design engineer told Reuters. “This vulnerability is meant to invoke an emotional connection.”

Kataoka was speaking about the Kirobo Mini, which, Reuters reported, is a synthetic baby companion in Japan where “plummeting birth rates are leaving many women childless”. This positioning is apparent in the company’s concept movie (above) for the product where the baby robot is seen as just another addition to the family. It comes for picnics, accompanies you on long drives, plays with children and is the apple of every grandmother’s eye.

The product is expected to launch in 2017 for ¥39,800 in Japan – about Rs 27,000.

The Kirobo Mini is not the only robo-companion that will be commercially available over the next few years.

Here's Jibo. "He's not just a connecting device. He's one of the family." It became one of the most successful crowdfunding campaigns ever, but has been delayed due to performance issues.


There’s also Paro, modelled on a baby harp seal, which was invented in Japan. The seal has been used in treatment centres for Alzheimer’s patients and dementia. While it has helped in creating positive feelings in patients, it has also thrown up a few ethical questions.

Shannon Vallor, a virtue ethicist and philosophy professor at Santa Clara University, asked in an article on about the seal, “My question is what happens to us, what happens to our moral character and our virtues in a world where we increasingly have more and more opportunities to transfer our responsibilities for caring for others, to robots?” She continued, “And where the quality of those robots increasingly encourages us to feel more comfortable with doing this, to feel less guilty about it, to feel in fact maybe like that’s the best way that we can care for our loved ones?”