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Sign Systems Studies

Volume 28, 2000

Dagmar Schmauks
Pages 309-324

Teddy bears, Tarnagotchis, transgenic mice
A semiotic typology of artificial animals

The expression "artificial animal" denotes a range of different objects from teddy bears to the results of genetic engineering. As a basis for further investigation, this article first of all presents the main interpretations and traces their systematic interconnections. The subsequent sections concentrate on artificial animals in the context of play. The development of material toys is fueled by robotics. It gives toys artificial sense organs, limbs, and cognitive abilities, thus enabling them to act in the real world. The second line of development, closely related to research into Artificial Life, creates virtual beings "living" on computer screens. The most essential difference between these variants are the sense modalities involved in interaction. Virtual beings can only be seen and heard, whereas material toys can be touched as well. Therefore, the simulation of haptic qualities plays an important role. In order to complete the proposed typology, two further areas are outlined, namely artificial animals outside play and "artificial animals in the medium of flesh" which are alive but designed and created by man. Research on artificial animals belongs to an extended notion of ecosemiotics, as they are part of ecosystems which may themselves be virtual such as the Internet.