It’s great coming home to your pets that are always happy to see you and give you lots of love when you first walk in the door. But could your furry family member be replaced by a mechanical one in the future? This could soon be a reality in the decades to come, according to Dr. Jean-Loup Rault of the University of Melbourne.

Rault’s paper in the latest edition of Frontiers in Veterinary Science argues pets will soon become a luxury in an overpopulated world and the future may lie in chips and circuits that mimic the real thing.

“It might sound surreal for us to have robotic or virtual pets, but it could be totally normal for the next generation,” Rault said in a media release. “It’s not a question of centuries from now. If 10 billion human beings live on the planet in 2050 as predicted, it’s likely to occur sooner than we think. If you’d described Facebook to someone 20 years ago, they’d think you were crazy. But we are already seeing people form strong emotional bonds with root dogs in Japan.”

The paper was spurred on by a lack of information about how technology may influence our relationships with animals in the future, but it also warns the emergence of robotic pets is a double-edged sword. Robots might help people who are allergic to pets, in a hospital, short on space or even scared of real animals, but depending on a robot for companionship brings big ethical questions.

“Robots can, without a doubt, trigger human emotions,” Rault said. “If artificial pets can produce the same benefits we get from live pets, does that mean that our emotional bond with animals is really just an image that we project on to our pets?”

Of course it’s hard to believe that a robot could ever replace puppy kisses, tail wagging, meows and purrs, but other scholars have chimed in on how robot pets might invade our lives.

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson told The Huffington Post in an email, “Cars have placed horses. Home security systems have replaced guard dogs. Internet kittens are cuter than your kittens. Pooper-scooper laws are unnecessary for cuddly stuffed animals on your bed. And your pet bird should have never been kept in a cage to begin with. Robot pets are inevitable. And possibly overdue.”