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What is a Furby?

A Furby is a robotic toy resembling a hamster/owl/demon creature that launched in the holiday season of 1998. It became a "must have" toy and sold over 40 million units over its production span. The Furby was the first successful domestically aimed robot. A new Furby speaks only Furbish then slowly starts to use more English. 

[1]. Many kids loved their Furbys, until they grew up and realized they were annoying and scary. In 2005, a newer version of Furbys were released with voice recognition technology and more in-depth facial movements, along with other various upgrades. They were sold until 2007, until these toys started to become very rare. [2]


How does this relate to our class?

Furbys were the first successful attempt to create a domestic robot. We have read articles in our class about robots in Japan and how some people reject them in their homes yet others accept them. The same thing can be said about Furbys, as there are people that think they are a fun toy and those that do not.

Sherry Turkle

Sherry Turkle has done research on projects that track the emotional responses of children with regard to robotic pets, such as Furbies. Furbies were unusual as they gave the illusion of learning, speaking gibberish until they were "taught" proper English by their owners (wherein they actually simply started talking after a preset amount of time). When furbies malfunctioned, however, they did so in a worrisome manner.

-Contributor Anecdote: I remember when my sister and I each had a Furby. I became disinterested in mine when it was slow to "learn words" not knowing that this learning was preset. My sister's, however, began to malfunction and scream random phrases constantly. It would do so for hours, and I can remember waking up in the middle of the night to a screaming Furby she had put outside her door so she could go back to sleep. She eventually ended up slamming the thing against a wall until it shut up for good . . . not exactly the best set of emotions you'd want to attach to toy . . .

Sherry Turkle, in her more recent work, warns of the danger of moving from inanimate toys that are simply of personal value to robotic beings that can simulate "friendships". She feels that substituting such relationships for real ones with children during their developmental stages can do significant damage to their emotional health.

See a full interview here: http://chronicle.com/article/Programmed-for-Love-The/125922/


  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Furby
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Furby
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