Nao Robot (Jaume University)

08 Jun Future Best Friends. And You’ll Love Them!

Ever wish your pets could talk to you? Tell you what’s on their mind? Well, in the future there will almost certainly be an app for that. More and more pet-lovers will opt for smart, sustainable robotic companions! It’s not as weird as it sounds!

Luxurious animals

We all love our pets, and they enrich our lives in so many ways. Pet owners are happier and healthier than average and pet ownership is famously linked to longevity. No wonder cute, cuddly animals are increasingly being used in so-called animal-assisted therapy to treat a whole range of diseases.

Still, every pet owner knows there are some downsides: caring for a pet every day is a lot of work and can be very time-consuming, especially since people are spending more and more time away from home.

Scientists are only beginning to examine the sustainability of pet-ownership. Our beloved animals rely heavily on a whole array of consumer products, some of which are extremely resource-intensive to produce. Having an animal in your home raises your carbon footprint and water usage.

With the world’s human population exploding, a global food and water crisis is looming. This means that pet ownership as we know it will be seen as a luxury in the future.

A new breed

Low-energy robotics will become a more and more popular option for people seeking to adopt a pet. Battery-powered robot dogs, like Aibo, have already been around for a few years but have not really taken off yet outside of Japan. The world is changing very fast. Soon it might just make perfect sense to adopt a robotic pet.

It may seem hard to imagine anyone loving a robot in the same way as we now love our pets. However, we expect that our cultures will gradually become more and more open to robots, as technology improves and we come to rely upon them in the future for things like basic care, education, and housekeeping.

Trendwatchers have observed that robotic dog owners in Japan, where the Aibo was a moderate success over ten years ago, actually develop deep and complex bonds with their electronic pets, going to great lengths to care for them and even holding funerals for them when they finally stop working.

Pet Rock
From pet-rock to pet-who-rocks

Loving a robot is not as weird as it sounds. People always project a lot of their own imagination onto their pets’ personalities as it is (this accounts for the success of the Pet Rock – basically the Tamagotchi of the 1970s). We like to think we understand out pets, what they are thinking, and how they feel about us.

Pet robots will really only be an attractive alternative if they can do all the fun stuff that real pets can do. Some amazing recent breakthroughs in artificial-intelligence research will soon enable manufacturers to create more lifelike robots – including pets – than ever before.

In early 2015 researchers with UC-Berkeley’s CITRIS program announced new work focusing on so-called “deep-learning” techniques, which enable robots to learn from their own experiences, similarly to the way humans do. This means robots will become more authentic and can even develop a unique character based on their experiences, exactly the way a person’s life experiences shape his or her personality.

Anyone who’s ever trained a puppy knows that dogs also learn from experience. If researchers continue to push toward smarter, more adaptable human-like robots, it will open up the door for robots who can learn and act like other species.

Paws that you can pause

It’s important that robotic pets require love and attention from their owners in order to form the same kind of bonds we now feel for our real-life animals. Your robotic pet may be easier to love, but you should still feel responsible for taking care of it.

Imagine a dog you never have to walk in the rain, never have to housebreak. Why not a talking pet who says what an animal really thinks? Your robotic pet can also be paused or set to stand-by if there is ever a time when you aren’t available to give it the attention is needs.

Not only will robotic pets become more lifelike going forward, they will become a lot easier (and maybe even more fun!) than the real thing.

This is just one of the many ways that robotics will be revolutionizing humankind going forward. The demands and challenges facing our planet in the future will require cultural as well as technological changes.

Loving a robot is not as weird as it sounds.

 By Will Gibbens – Table Talk Communications for stay amazed every day

Photo: Nao Robot (Jaume University)

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