Do you know an elderly shut-in who desperately craves companionship and company? Great news! An incredibly terrifying facsimile of a real animal, one that meows, rolls over and “vibra-purrs,” can now be yours for only $99.
In a marketing ploy that seems as ill-conceived as the product it’s hawking, Hasbro touts its “Joy for All Companion Pets” as “designed to bring comfort, companionship and fun for your elder loved ones.” Which cannot be true, because your average 80-year-old has eyes and can therefore see that these are robot cats.
The robo-cat’s fur is supposed to be lifelike and soft to the touch. It has specific interactive capabilities — for instance, if you stroke its face, it nuzzles back against you. And if you pet it for a longer time, its eyes will close and it will fall “asleep.”
Remember, folks. Don Draper would be 80 today — if he were real, unlike these cats. What do you think Don Draper would do if you gave him a faux-fur Joy for All Companion Pet?
To be fair, there is evidence that pet-companion therapy is extremely beneficial to the elderly. And that when that’s not practical, plush toys are, indeed, a great comfort to people with dementia. And there are many lists like this of things to do with seniors to keep them engaged with people and the world around them: No. 20 is “Have a friend visit with a well-behaved pet.”
But robot kitties? Even research on robo-cats didn’t find a significant difference between non-robotic plush cats and plush cats animated by the soul of Satan.
Oddly, this isn’t the first iteration of scary-creepy plush creatures unleashed upon the elderly. A $6,000 white-seal version called “Paro,” as in “I’m paro-noid that this creature will eat my face if I fall asleep,” has been available since about 2004.
The problem here, really, is that these robo-cats fall firmly into the uncanny valley, that area of perception in which something that’s almost real becomes frightening because your brain knows there’s something off, but can’t tell exactly what. It’s a big problem in robotics.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.