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"What television does is rent us friends and relatives who are quite satisfactory. This is quite something, to rent artificial friends and relatives right inside the house."
- Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Electric Sheep  
  An electronic farm animal; a non-organic robot covered with sheepskin that acts like a sheep.  

In the future world of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the Earth has been ruined - how this occurred is not important to Dick. Few animals were able to survive; it is a signal social accomplishment to have a live animal. Since a live animal is too expensive, robot animals are procured instead.

Perhaps you are looking to purchase or research a robotic companion? You've come to the right place.

He ascended … to the covered pasture whereon his electric sheep "grazed." Whereon it, sophisticated piece of hardware that it was, chomped away in simulated contentment, bamboozling the other tenants of the building.

Of course, some of their animals undoubtedly consisted of electronic circuitry fakes, too (he had never nosed into the matter)…Nothing could be more impolite. To say "Is your sheep genuine" would be a breach of etiquette.

From Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick.
Published by Doubleday in 1968
Additional resources -

For additional verisimilitude, some of the "animals" could even feign illness, until "cured" by a repairman disguised as a veterinarian (see disease circuit).

It was also possible to create an autonomous robotic version of an actual pet:

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 the novel, humanity has effectively ruined the natural world; the obsession with mechanical animals is used to both show the shallow social needs of human beings as well as the quirky, likeable quality present in people who love their pets. Androids don't seem to have the capacity to care for others, of their own kind or even animals.

It is true that we have a special admiration for creations like Sony's Aibo that we do not have for real animals. As the French philosopher Jean de la Varende remarked about androids and automatons, "I admire the man who gives himself so much pain to manufacture what God makes so easily".

On the other hand, it is also true that philosophers have for centuries believe that animals are mere automata anyway; as Descartes says "all the actions of beasts are similar only to those which we perform without the help of our minds."

Don't miss Ray Bradbury's mechanical hound from Fahrenheit 451; a fireman's best friend? Perhaps.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
  More Ideas and Technology by Philip K. Dick
  Tech news articles related to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
  Tech news articles related to works by Philip K. Dick

Electric Sheep-related news 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

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