Robot pets to rise in an overpopulated world

May 25, 2015

Credit: © Silkstock / Fotolia

By Science Daily

University of Melbourne animal welfare researcher Dr Jean-Loup Rault says the prospect of robopets and virtual pets is not as far-fetched as we may think.

His paper in the latest edition of Frontiers in Veterinary Science argues pets will soon become a luxury in an overpopulated world and the future may lie in chips and circuits that mimic the real thing.

“It might sound surreal for us to have robotic or virtual pets, but it could be totally normal for the next generation,” Dr Rault said.

“It’s not a question of centuries from now. If 10 billion human beings live on the planet in 2050 as predicted, it’s likely to occur sooner than we think. If you’d described Facebook to someone 20 years ago, they’d think you were crazy. But we are already seeing people form strong emotional bonds with robot dogs in Japan.

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17 comments on “Robot pets to rise in an overpopulated world

  • I love robotics and I hope people are endeavoring to make robotic pets (because of what we will learn by doing so). But I see a number of points this article seems to ignore. Overpopulation is not a problem because of limited space. this may be true in some countries like Japan in which physical space is at a premium but in most countries (certainly here in Australia) the problem is not going to be physical space. The problem is the subsequent overuse of resources, and the environmental impact of these activities. I cannot see robotic pets helping this at all. Dogs, cats and guinea pigs are damn efficient in terms of resources compared to mining exotic materials, refining those minerals, shipping those minerals around the world, making them into components, then reshipping to those to toy factories to build the robots, finally reshipping the finished robots to countries to sell them in shops, where in a couple of years they will be broken and tossed in the trash. Really not addressing the problem as far as I can see.

    If we really wanted to be environmental about it we’d keep only local native species as pets. Foreseeing an objection many (particularly on the left) think this is an unnecessary impact on wildlife. I’d simply argue that keeping a wallaby or possum would be infinitively better for the environment than having feral cats and dog tearing through the wildlife.

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  • Isn’t this a natural progression? People these days seem more comfortable when their relationships are mediated by technology; perhaps because it allows them to retain more control. Relationships with technological objects would allow complete control.

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  • my apes had a pleo before I was born. They sometimes talk fondly of the days when their pet couldn’t outrun them, didn’t vanish for 24 hours at a time, was incapable of ruining the furniture and felt no compulsion to shout from the bottom of the stairs at 3 in the morning because it feels breakfasty.

    that is quite hard to compete with

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  • 7
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    At the end of the day, it’s a machine, not a pet. Call me old fashioned by I find this whole idea kind of creepy and sad. The whole point of a pet is actual companionship, to relate to another living sentient being who needs care and attention. In return, it brings warmth and beauty to one’s life, and in some cases affection and a very special bond.

    How in the world can this be achieved with an assembly of metal, plastic, silicon and firmware? There are thousands of cats and dogs in animal shelters who are euthanized every day because nobody wants them… And now we’re talking about getting robotic pets??? I’m sorry but this is just f****ed up.

    If you can’t or don’t want to deal with the drawbacks of a real pet (allergies, hair, house odors, etc..) then don’t have a pet. But don’t fool people into believing than an unfeeling, unthinking machine can be an actual companion.

    There is one exception I can see however: for those people who would want to have wild animals as pets then I’m all for the robotic surrogates of tarantulas, snakes, tigers, chimps, etc.. and making it illegal to own the live ones. They don’t belong in a house with us and keeping those is a form of abuse.

    So if you’re screwed up enough to want a croc or a hyena for a pet, then you’re crazy enough to be happy with a robotic one. Nuff said..

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  • 9
    Cairsley says:

    Given our present technology, robopets seem to me to be at best on a par with potplants. Some people form close bonds with their potplants, talk to them and become quite attached to them; the same, no doubt, may well happen with the kind of robotic pets that can now be produced. But we do not normally regard plants as pets.

    I am skeptical but openminded about artificial intelligence ever being brought to the point where some kind of consciousness is generated by the robotic circuitry. If robopets endowed with a kind of awareness and sense of self comparable to that of the higher animals can ever be developed, then they may be able to offer the kind of companionship that a live pet offers us at present. How far in the future that will be, if at all, is not at all clear; but, if it ever happens, then it will be only a matter of time till robots with humanlike consciousness are produced. For now, let me have a dog that I know loves me, or a cat that I know discerns my usefulness to it and occasionally even betrays a certain fondness for me.

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  • @OP – University of Melbourne animal welfare researcher Dr Jean-Loup Rault says the prospect of robopets and virtual pets is not as far-fetched as we may think.

    This seems to be a further development of the Tamagotchi craze of a few years back!

    The Tamagotchi (たまごっち?) is a handheld digital pet, created in Japan by Akihiro Yokoi of WiZ and Aki Maita of Bandai. It was first sold by Bandai on November 23, 1996 in Japan. As of 2010, over 76 million Tamagotchis have been sold world-wide.

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  • Its pet humans we most need, maybe just on a screen, for the old and demented. People (us) when we age become increasingly anxious and in need of comfort……almost without limit.

    Watson could put up a pretty good show with the Turing test, especially if fed the Terrabytes of information from our recorded life. Reminders of happy days, the old music, loved ones, achievements, great events, little moments. Stuff in the news that is a reminder of your own life. The infinite patience that could be afforded, the stimulus to remember, could go to help with our end of life experiences, when our loved ones cannot be there.

    It may sound a nightmare and is certainly at risk of abuse, but, it could work superbly well with kindly but unknown hospital visitors in a three way conversation or with your own family to help train “John”….. With prompts from John to his chair-bound or bed-bound friend to tell the visitor with help about the time you went in an airship..butting in to show a picture or tell something you’ve forgotten.

    The current mode of sedation until quiet (if not happy) is rather more the nightmare.

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  • – companionship for astronauts. This technology could possibly extend to hospital robotic vital signs collector – problematic, reasonable to expect that not all patients would take comfort from it.

    robotic cats – need to make them unpredictable.

    Lol. “dogs have owners, cats have staff”

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  • The problem with cats and dogs is that the western meat industry generates ~25% of CO2 emissions – and cats and dogs are pretty exclusively carnivores. This is not a small problem, even when you account for them eating the parts that humans don’t want to.

    Cats and dogs also take up time and space. You can’t buy a border collie, pet them in the morning, leave them in your flat all day, then come back and play with them at night. Well… You can, but it’s really not healthy for the dog, and your flat will end up damaged in short order. Robot pets get around this problem. Along with the problems of producing poop and inconveniently dying.

    Beyond a certain advancement in technology, you also have options that aren’t present in nature. Want a puppy that never grows up? A pet wolf? Tiger? Dragon (non-flying)? You can have it all! And then transfer your beloved pet’s mind to a new body if you get bored with the old one.

    And mind if the right word here. The fact is despite the nay-sayers and the flat-earthers AI research has not stood still. We have made progress, and however long it will take us to emulate a human brain – we’ll be able to do it for cats and dogs. At which point they’ll be real for all purposes.

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  • If GMO scientists fail to double world food supply by 2050 (see current GMO post in “News”), can we kill the robot pets and eat them? Better yet can we kill the fools that designed and manufactured them? C’mon mate, throw another rump roast on the barbie!

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  • Its pet humans we most need, maybe just on a screen, for the old and demented. People (us) when we age become increasingly anxious and in need of comfort……almost without limit.

    Watson would bring too much horsepower to the project. The old and demented have lost their recollection of what you’re trying to remind them of in the radical sense that brain damage has erased people and events from memory…A home movie clip of an old woman’s deceased husband at the helm of their sailboat might bring the query, “who is that?” Those with intermittent normal cognition would know they’re watching a screen or is the idea to induce hallucinations in the feeble-minded? Better to find out what the person suffering from dementia finds engaging and enjoyable in her current condition and environment. If she likes old movies, show her those. Because the brain retains memories of music at the slowest rate of loss, find out what songs she likes and play those for her. If she enjoys bingo, see that she gets to regular sessions. If Watson is overtuned, he could torture his “patient” susceptible to fatigue and dozing off with too much irrelevant stimulation. Let a human being with human judgement handle the simple schedule of activities and engagement most pleasing to his or her charge.

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  • Melvin
    May 29, 2015 at 2:16 am

    can we kill the robot pets and eat them? Better yet can we kill the fools that designed and manufactured them?

    Nah! Some of the macho-owners could have their Robo-Rottweillers turn terminator on them, and from there on, the robo-pets would protect the planet for future mechanoids, and just keep enough humans to meet their needs!

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