This article from Livescience discusses studies that show some people get the same feelings from robotic “pets” as they do from the real thing.
[S]everal studies show that robotic pets . . . invoke the same feelings and reactions as real pets.
In a recent study at the University of Missouri, levels of cortisol dropped among adults who petted AIBO, Sony’s dog-shaped robot. Cortisol is a hormone that indicates stress. AIBO has some convincing dog-like behaviors; it responds when stroked, chases a ball and perks up when it hears a familiar voice.
Purdue psychologist Gail Melson gave AIBO to children ages 7 to 15 for a few play periods; 70 percent felt the robot could be a good companion, like a pet. When AIBOs were provided to elderly residents in independent living facilities for six weeks, residents reported being less depressed and lonely.
A robotic pet would never get into the trash or need its litter box cleaned. It would not scratch the sofa or demand to be walked. But I doubt that many people would find them as rewarding and companionable as a live cat or dog in the long run. It’s an interesting concept, but for now I don’t think my job security will be challenged by this trend!