WHILE in Chicago, we were wandering up Michigan Avenue in search of Borders when we came across the Sony shop. There in the window were three cute little robot puppies. Aaaah! I'd never seen an Aibo in the flesh, um, metal before. So we went in and asked "How much is that doggie in the window?" You know, as you do. And they said "Oh, they're $2500" which, let's face it, is only extortionately expensive, so we said, "we'll have one." Fortunately for us, they then had to embarrassedly admit that they didn't actually have any for sale, they were just display models and they didn't know when (or indeed, if) they would ever have any more in (I guess the captive breeding programme isn't going that well). So we left empty-handed.
Of course, it wasn't until much later that we realised that buying a robot pet in Chicago was perhaps not the most sensible thing to do. After all, what about Customs? Import duty? Six months quarantine? They probably insist you have a biological chip fitted to ensure that your robot pet doesn't have any computer viruses. Do you need a dog licence? Does the RSPCA check up on whether or not you're mistreating it? Does feeding it 230 volt power instead of 110 volt count as abuse?
Then what about when you get your pet home? Dogs are probably OK, but what about robot cats? Do they go out and bring home dead calculators or Palm Pilots to leave in your slippers? Sick up silicon-chip balls? Mark their territory by scratching bar codes on the furniture? Let's face it, we had a narrow escape (not to mention vastly improving the quantum state of our credit cards ) but still, I can't help feeling that George would be much improved by an off-switch.
Talking of things that would be improved by an off-switch, Marianne has been asking for a pet recently. Now, being just three and a half, she's only safe to be given a pet rock, but we'll start looking for an electronic goldfish or something for her fifth birthday. Real live creatures will probably have to wait until she hits puberty and needs distracting in a hurry.
Of course, pet rocks are passé these days. The in thing is apparently the pet chip. This is a computer chip painted up like an animal and with a lot of expensive packaging. Unfortunately for our dreams of cornering the pet chip market, it turns out that these are fake chips since real chips are too dangerous to be treated in this cavalier fashion.