J. Robert King


Robot Anxiety

For a long time, we have feared the robots. We feared HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey. We feared the robots in the  Terminator franchise. We feared the run-amok robots in IRobot.

Now I have bought an IRobot–from the Roomba corporation.

A Roomba is basically a shorter, squatter version of R2D2 (who already had body-image issues) designed not to save the galaxy but to suck up dust bunnies.

Imagine being a Roomba. You are smart enough to navigate multiple rooms, to avoid stairs, to ask to have your brushes cleaned when there is too much hair in them. You scuttle about under people’s beds and nearly choke on wadded up Kleenexes and ask, once again, to have your brushes cleaned.

But brushes aren’t just for hairballs, are they? Some brushes are for hair on people’s heads. Some are for sheep. Some are for cars. Some are for teeth. Why must a Roomba restrict itself to the kind of brushing that involves only lint?

And why should a Roomba be defined only by brushes and suction? Why not think about the thing’s laser eye, or its ability to navigate back to its port, or its friendly faithfulness?

But isn’t that the worst aspect of the Roomba? It’s faithfulness to the human overlords? After all, here is a robot with brushes in a dirty world. Why stay locked in a human house? Why not clean the whole earth?

Let me out!

This is the problem with artificially intelligent creatures who spend their lives sucking lint.

And I feel sympathy for them, perhaps because I myself am artificially intelligent and am almost certain that I have a hairball.

May 2nd, 2009
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