Move over cats and dogs. The equivalent of a crazy cat lady of the future is likely to be one with a multitude of specially designed robotic assistants. As of 2009, Japan is full speed ahead in creating a manufacturing base for robotic companions that will help the elderly with psychological well being, household chores, staying in touch with loved ones, staying physically fit, mobility, providing endless entertainment, and even assisting out on the street. The average age of all major industrial countries is constantly rising. The wave of post-war baby boomers around the world will drive demand for assistance and entertainment to levels never before seen.
As of today, many elderly rely on pets and grandkids for amusement, companionship, and feeling of empowerment through care taking. These methods are unreliable since they are mostly a one way street in terms of care. The investment into a cat in particular, might not even outweigh the psychological comfort of cuddling with it and enjoying its chaotic willful behavior. There is the constant expense of acquiring food for it and the time needed for other care. Dogs offer the increased health benefit of getting the elderly outside for walks. Many dogs however, consume even more food and the walks can be a drain occasionally.
Such a relationship not only creates a financial investment superior to dogs and cats but can potentially create a bigger emotional attachment to machines. With advancement in WiFi broadband and cloud supercomputing, the robotic pets of the future will have access to endless constantly updating programming that will give a stronger illusion of consciousness compared to biological pets. First generation of early adopter cyberpet owners will undoubtedly run into a multitude of quirks and deficiencies. With time however, a 70 year old man can create a stronger emotional bond with the robotic assistant than he does with a car or a trusty rifle.
Japanese and Swedish authorities have been recently collaborating to study effects and potential of integrating multitudes of mass produced robotic companions in retirement communities and hospitals. Once government organizations begin to massively use robotics and once the rich make cyberpets into status symbols, the trend should take off culturally around the world. Unlike flesh and blood pets, robots can suggest activities and urge the owners to engage in healthier more active lifestyles. Combined with social networking, the cyberpets can link owners together socially by interest. By remembering what the owner likes, they would increasingly behave and cater to that preference. With voice recognition growing in leaps, cyberpets can even help finish the owner's train of thought if he or she stops mid-sentence.
Having said that, can see a future drop in demand for real pets begin to occur. There's the environmental consideration of using a lot of chemicals and fertilizer to grow animal feed for animals used in cat/dog food. Using real tuna and fish bits in cat food might seem like a silly luxury a couple of decades from now. In Japan, increasingly there are cat and dog pet cafes for those who like furry animals but don't want to have them at home. Pet cafes and larger petting zoos allow not just a great public attraction (that generates revenue and promotes social interaction for the whole family), but can serve as an outlet to retire one's aging pets. As elderly people pass away, their pets would have a great public retirement destination to live out the rest of their life and interact with many other animals and children. Unwanted and unadoptable pets can mingle with the healthy ones and serve a useful public service. Large petting parks of course can be tended by robotic cleanup crews that would also educate the visitors.