We have become so accustomed to technology that a robotic dog that captured headlines all over the world can, indeed, seem almost real, at least to some persons. Children told researchers they knew the robotic dog wasn't a live dog, but they surprisingly thought it was pretty close.
Some 91 percent of the kids said they would prefer a live dog for a companion, but 70 percent seemed at least partially satisfied with the companionship of a robot.
Interestingly, the researchers found that autistic children bonded with the robotic dog and were more responsive later to the psychologists.
That doesn't mean a lot of folks are likely to give up the family pooch in favor of a dog that can be disconnected from its power source at night. But this is only the beginning of what is certain to be an enormous change in how technology affects our lives.
Ray Kurzweil, who makes a good living predicting future changes, believes we are nearing what he calls the "singularity," when humans and machines will be virtually indistinguishable. Need a new heart? Try aisle 5. Want to stay your present age? Pick up a few new parts on aisle 7.
Sounds pretty good, eh? We can keep grandpa around forever.
And if you want to take a walk through the forest, all you have to do is flip on your three-dimensional holographic machine and join a world that has been reshaped through technology. It will seem very real, no doubt, but it won't be nature, and that troubles the researchers.
"When I'm kayaking and a dolphin comes by and I connect with those eyes, that's an experience I remember for a long time," Ruckert said. "It's a rich experience."
Ruckert said all you have to do is take a trip to the zoo to see what we may lose in the years ahead. The zoo, she noted, works both ways.
"When we go to the zoo, we see people tapping on windows and throwing things," she said. "We want to be recognized by the wild animal. Perhaps this is a perverse substantiation of something very fundamental to who we are."
We want to see, and be seen, by nature. Technology, she added, "can never capture the true, wild nature of life."
For one thing, the element of fear is gone because there's no way that a holographic bear or tiger is going to eat you.
Or could it? Metaphorically, perhaps. Maybe that's what is going to happen, and those who come after us will never know what they have lost.