Should Humanity Switch To Robotic Pets?

In his 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, science fiction writer Philip K. Dick considered whether or not robotic pets might not be possible, and even more sensible, than animal pets:

An inspiration came to Isidore. "What about an exact electric duplicate of your cat? We can have a superb handcrafted job by Wheelright & Carpenter in which every detail of the old animal is faithfully repeated..."

In an article in Frontiers in Veterinary Science, research fellow Jean-Loup Rault of the Animal Welfare Science Centre, Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences, University of Melbourne, Parkville, VIC, Australia considers the same questions in detail:

Patients using the Paro robot reported that they “know it is not real but still love it,” and talk to it as a living being. Hence, robots can without doubt trigger human emotions. Indeed, funerals are held for AIBO robotic dogs in Japan nowadays, since Sony recently closed their last tech ‘clinic’ used to fix them. If artificial pets can replicate the human benefits obtained from live pets, does that 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? Does it ethically matter if the benefits of keeping artificial pets outweight the risks, sparing other live pets’ potential animal welfare issues? Conversely, could artificial pets make future human generations insensitive to the treatment of live animals (15)? As Turkle mentioned, “we make our technologies, and they, in turn, shape us.” Others are warning about these fast technological advances, with Stephen Hawking fearing that humans, limited by slow biological evolution, could not compete and would be superseded by full artifical intelligence, and Bill Gates warning that artificial intelligence poses a real threat to humankind. What risks would artificial pets cause to humans compared to live pets? And to domestic animals?

Further exploration of these issues may be found in these past articles:

  - Biomimetic Robot Animals - Not All Are Cute
  - 'Electric Sheep' Gaining On Real Pets
  - Heart Robot Wants To Feel Your Love
  - Dream Cat Venus An Android's Dream
  - 'Electric Sheep' Runs On Real Grass - EATR Robot
  - EATR Robot Is A Vegetarian
  - Robot Cats Perfect For Older Britons
  - Does PETA Dream Of Electric Groundhogs?
  - SmartBird Robotic Bird In Flight
  - Do Swiss Roboticists Dream Of Electric Sheep?
  - Cheetah Cub Robot From PKD's Android Dreams

Read more at Pets in the digital age: live, robot, or virtual?.

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