One of the ways in which robotics is expected to develop over the next few decades will be through the adoption of virtual pets rather than their living counterparts, one Australian researcher believes.
Jean-Loup Rault, a veterinary science researcher at the University of Melbourne, explained in his paper Frontiers of Veterinary Science that as the world population reaches 9.6 billion by 2050 and becomes more urbanized, robot cats and dogs will become much more common as emotionally satisfying pals, according to The Week.
"Are animals what make us human? Or are we witnessing a leap into what domestication always was: to select animals to be perfect pets, with a need to update the definition of pets as an animal or an artificial device kept for pleasure?" Rault wrote in the paper, which was published on May 7.
Settings where robotic pets could be better suited than their living ones include small apartments, hospitals and houses for children for special needs. They may also be suited for people who can't take on the responsibility of taking care of a living animal.
Over half of people in the Western world own a pet, and having a pet is becoming more popular in Asia as it is seen as an indicator of one's social status, RT reported.
Rault said virtual pet technology will evolve over the next 10 to 15 years and believes that domesticated pets won't as feasible in a more urbanized setting.
"A more realistic future is that pets may become a luxury possession for people who can afford to sustain their cost and fulfill their needs in terms of space, social, and mental needs according to possibly higher ethical standards raised by future societies," he said, adding that this transition will have a similar impact on pets as "the industrial revolution" had on technology.
Robotic animals have already been created for comforting purposes, such as Paro, the Japanese robotic baby seal designed to help hospital patients with dementia form social bonds, The Week reported.
Researchers believe there are pros and cons to robotic pets, RT reported. The elderly and people with allergies would be able to experience what it's like to have a "pet," but getting use to not having to feed pets or having them exercise could affect how people take care of domesticated areas.
"If artificial pets can replicate the human benefits obtained from live pets, does this mean that the human-animal emotional bond is solely dependent on ourselves and the image that we project on a live or artificial interactive partner?," Rault wrote. "Does it ethically matter if the benefits of keeping artificial pets outweigh the risks, sparing other living pets' potential animal welfare issues?"
Rault added that people won't have to choose between robotic or living pets, saying that virtual animals could help increase global pet ownership.
Some people who may not be fans of robotic pets include Tesla Founder Elon Musk, Professor Stephen Hawking and other members of The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots that believe the evolution of artificial intelligence could lead to the end of humanity.