It’s easy to see how we, as humans, have become so dependent on technology. Personally, it’s sad to think that a big step for me, recently, is that I now turn my wi-fi off before I go to bed. Today, technology does more than just aid us in mechanical ways, it also aids us both emotionally and socially. With the social media boom, more and more people look to online platforms to engage and connect both socially and emotionally with others. Things that used to be only experienced in person can now also be done remotely, such as watch concerts, go to weddings, and even take part in sexual encounters. Animal welfare researcher Dr. Jean-Loup Rault has now taken this one step further by claiming that robotic pets could become a reality within the next 10 years. Rault, a researcher from the University of Melbourne, states that as the global human population increases, “real” pets will become too much of a luxury and will need to be replaced by virtual or robotic pets. Are you ready for a mechanical pal?
Not only does Rault believe that robotic k9s will surpass real ones, he also believes that humans will be able to actually form meaningful relationships with their robotic companions. People in Japan have already shown these connections, as Rault comments, “Pet robotics has come a long way from the Tamagotchi craze of the mid-90s. In Japan, people are becoming so attached to their robot dogs that they hold funerals for them when the circuits die.” An example of one of these robotic dogs already on the market is the Sony Aibo dog, which has been shown to evoke caring emotions in children. Research has shown, however, that most people place Aibo in a status between pet and machine, so they haven’t yet beaten out their furry brethren.
In theory, though, there are actually some benefits to having these robotic pets. They would not require any food, water, or exercise, and yet still provide all the positive traits of pets, such as obedience, dependence, companionship, and love. Plus you don’t have to house train them. If humans are able to develop relationships with robotic pets, however, what does that mean about our current relationships with living pets? Rault speculates, ” Robots can, without a doubt, trigger human emotions. If artificial pets can produce the same benefits we get from live pets, does that mean that our emotional bond with animals is really just an image that we project on to our pets?”, which is kind of worrisome.
For real answers, though, we’ll just have to wait and see if robotic pets can take hold in the future. But personally, all I can picture when I hear “robotic pets” is a glorified Furbee! But what about you? Do you think you could bond with a robotic dog or cat? Let us know!