Saturday, November 28, 2015

NSA Has Cat's Eyes

"Hasbro’s first toy for the senior set: Robotic cats to keep grandma company" by Nidhi Subbaraman, 4 days ago 

I'm told the robot has a calming effect regarding the loss of human connections(????).

At a time when consumers rely on technology for just about everything and routinely rattle off commands to a personal assistant hidden in a phone, it should come as little surprise that a company would attempt to sell a product that can mimic the primal satisfaction of having a cat rest in your lap.

But scholars have already offered the view that there’s something eerie about how people are willing to outsource a basic human need — keeping company — to machines or artificial intelligence software, as Joaquin Phoenix’s character did in the 2013 Spike Jonze film “Her.”

“I think this path takes us off our deepest connection with ourselves and our humanity. I am hoping that we will experiment and talk about it and reject it,” Sherry Turkle, MIT professor and psychologist, wrote in an e-mail.

In “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age,” published in October, Turkle said that our comfort with talking to devices and machines is a little off-key.

“We are tempted to focus so much on whether you can get an elderly person to talk to a robot that you forget that what matters is whether someone is listening,” she wrote. “In the case of the robot no one is listening. And listening, listening and appreciating the stories of our elders, is our deepest compact across the generations.”

NSA maybe.

But Ted Fischer, Hasbro’s vice president of business development, said it was the preferences of potential customers that directed the design of the product.

“Our experience was that it brought a lot of joy to the folks that had them,” Fischer said. Also, he envisions the companion robot facilitating interactions among family members.

“This product was developed and designed specifically for the senior market,” he said.

The company has a huge target market: The aging baby boomer generation is expected to push the number of US adults over 65 to 74 million by 2030, making up almost 20 percent of the US population. By 2050, the Census Bureau expects, there will be 19 million US adults over age 85.

Stephanie Wissink, a Piper Jaffray & Co. analyst, noted that Hasbro already sells robotic animals to children as part of its FurReal Friends series, and Companion Pets for adults is an extension of that platform. “It’s not something that we would have expected from them, but it makes logical sense that they are able to do it,” Wissink said.

Decades of research suggests that companion pets might help their owners lead happier and healthier lives.

Sony’s robotic dog, Aibo, has cultivated a devoted following since its launch in 1999 but sent owners into a frantic search for qualified mechanics who could build out replacement parts and repairs when the company stopped supporting the line in 2014.

And since the mid-1990s, a Japanese company called Paro has been selling a white, fluffy robot shaped like a baby harp seal that, like Hasbro’s cat, can respond to touch.

These robots can draw deep empathetic responses that have surprised researchers. Studies have found that the Paro, with its blinking eyes and coy seal sounds, can serve as a therapy tool and companion for elderly people with mental health conditions like dementia.

But Paro retails at around $5,000, making it unaffordable to many families.

Companion Pets, then, are more affordable. “I could see something like this product also being helpful for these populations, particularly since the price is more reasonable,” Laurel Riek, a researcher at the University of Notre Dame who studies how robots engage people, wrote in an e-mail.

Riek is among the researchers who say that people will need to rely on robots for personal care as the aging population overtakes the number of trained people available to administer care.

Related: I, Robot

The robot pet, though, does come with some responsibilities for the owner. Like a real cat, Companion Pet Cat cannot be thrown in a washing machine or submerged in a sink. But it does come with cleaning instructions....

It's also anatomically correct.


RelatedPetco to be acquired in $4.6 billion purchase

Are they the real thing?

"Drones are expected to be hot sellers this holiday season. Now it looks as if owners of nearly all those machines will have to register with the federal government and have the information placed in a national database, as officials look to address concerns over safety and the mischief caused by unmanned aircraft. The proposed regulations were outlined in a report released Monday by the Federal Aviation Administration. The recommendations came from a task force created by the agency and are widely expected to be approved in a few weeks, ahead of what is expected to be a big increase of drone owners after Christmas." 

That will leave a MarkeyBetter off returning it.

"In the battle for holiday toy spending, the empire has the upper hand. At least that’s the view in the stock market. Short interest on Mattel Inc. is hovering near an all-time high, reflecting skepticism the toymaker will deliver this holiday season. After surging all year, bearish bets as a percentage of shares outstanding sit at about 21 percent for the El Segundo, Calif., manufacturer, just below a record of almost 22 percent in October, according to data compiled by Bloomberg and Markit Ltd. Pessimism is lingering even after Mattel, maker of Barbie dolls and Hot Wheels toys, broke out of a downward price trend monitored by chart analysts and recently attracted a 9.1 million-share investment from hedge fund Jana Partners LLC, led by frequent activist founder Barry Rosenstein. By comparison, investors are sanguine on Mattel’s biggest publicly traded competitor: Hasbro Inc., which has a licensing agreement to sell merchandise related to the Dec. 18 release of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Short interest as a percentage of shares outstanding on Hasbro is 4.3 percent, down from a one-year high of 9.8 percent in March." 

Isn't that where we went last year?

Yeah, Star Wars will save the season so rejoice!

"Toys ‘R’ Us CEO sees slower sales growth for toys" by Matt Townsend Bloomberg News  November 28, 2015

Toys “R” Us Inc. chief executive Dave Brandon said the toy industry isn’t putting up the kind of growth numbers that some predicted this holiday season.

“My preliminary view is we’re not seeing 6 percent to 7 percent category growth,” Brandon said in an interview. “Now maybe it’s still out there. We’ll see.”

See this:

"Toys are staging a comeback. The US toy industry is expected to have its strongest year in at least a decade after several years of kids choosing video games and mobile apps over Barbie and stuffed bears. Annual toy sales are projected to rise 6.2 percent to $19.9 billion in 2015, according to The NPD Group Inc., a market research firm that tracks about 80 percent of the US toy market. That’s up from a 4 percent increase last year, and the biggest increase in at least 10 years since the group has tracked toys using its current system. The growth is being fueled by increasing popularity of collectibles, toys based on Hollywood blockbuster films, and better technology that allows toys to do things like talk back to children."

Just what parents need, more kids talking back to them.

Brandon took the helm at Toys “R” Us earlier this year, aiming to turn around the world’s largest retail chain devoted to toys. The company was taken private by Bain Capital Partners, KKR & Co., and Vornado Realty Trust in a $6.6 billion deal in 2005. Since then, the rise of Web competitors like Inc. hampered its performance, leading it to cancel plans for an initial public offering two years ago.

Revenue has dropped in each of the past three years, including during the holidays. So this Christmas is an important test for the retailer under Brandon. He’s also stepping up investments in e-commerce, aiming to better cope with Amazon and other online rivals.

Revenue dropping during the alleged economic recovery.

The company has been stocking more inventory of the industry’s biggest brands, like Star Wars, than in past years. Games like Hasbro Inc.’s Pie Face helped fuel sales during Thanksgiving, Brandon said on Friday.


I would say something but the cat has my tongue.

UPDATE: Shelter seeks residences for 67 cats rescued in Salisbury