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Will pets of the future be replaced by robots and clones?

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It might be hard to imagine that ‘Man’s Best Friend’ of the future may not be the warm and cuddly, flesh and blood mammal which has stood by his/her side for over 30,000 years – but instead be replicated as a robot made of metal and plastic with artificial intelligence, facial-recognition technology and the ability to develop its own personality. One does not really need to imagine it, because robotic pets are already here and they are only going to become more sophisticated over time. Do you remember the toy puppy that could walk, sit, flip over and bark, that became popular several years ago? Well, move over Rover – there’s a new internet-connected dog interfacing with its audience now.

Several other robotic pet models are also on the market – there are robot cats, birds, mice, hamsters, monkeys and more. One of the most popular robotic pets available right now is Sony’s Aibo robot puppy, a more advanced version of the one first introduced in China. It is now available for purchase in the U.S. for just under $3000. It doesn’t need food, but it will need its energy charged – and your new ‘puppy’ won’t come home with you in a pet carrier, instead your Aibo puppy will be delivered in a box. Once you take it out of the packaging and start charging it, it will start ‘winking its eyes’, ‘shaking its body’ and ‘raise its paw in greeting’ and start barking. It’s autonomous and will wander around your home on its own, as the technology lets it detect obstacles and map its environment. It will even learn to interact more often with the person in your home who pets it the most. It won’t need visits the veterinarian, but it can keep a record of what it experiences and download new tricks from the cloud.

It seems bizarre to say the least, but there are some positive aspects to having a robotic pet. It might be a good substitute for people allergic to real animals or for those living alone who have physical challenges. Robotic cats have already shown benefits for the elderly who are dealing with dementia or those living in long-term care facilities. Caregivers have seen a significant reduction in agitation and anxiety through playing and talking with their ‘pet cat’. There are many other potential areas where robotic pets will prove to have positive effects and there is a numerous and growing industry forging ahead with advanced technology – even working towards making them ‘feel’ real. But will they ever really replace a real pet? Which brings us to the next subject – the cloning of our beloved pets with an exact DNA replica.

The cloning of a mammal became real when in 1996, scientists successfully cloned a sheep they named ‘Dolly’. From there they moved forward cloning other animals like rabbits, goats, pigs and cats. People form deep bonds with their pets and when they die, the loss and grief can be devastating. And if you have $50,000 to clone a dog or $25,000 to clone a cat, the idea of reproducing an exact replica of your beloved pet is more than appealing – but one must realize it is just the physical aspect that is replicated and therefore not really one’s pet brought back to life.

Just recently, Barbra Streisand surprised many people by letting them know two of her three dogs had been cloned from cells taken from her recently deceased dog, Samantha. She was devastated by her loss and wanted to keep a part of her alive, but was very well aware that it was not Samantha ‘reborn’. There are many moral questions and concerns involved with whole idea and process of cloning – and as far as robotic pets go, can they really replace the natural bonds formed with our flesh and blood friends?

By: Bonnie Wurst – info@mtltimes.ca

 

 

 

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