Can't Robots Be More Like a Man?
by Mad Dog
And what do you
get for all that money? A machine that measures the room, vacuums the
floor, doesn’t bump into walls or fall down the stairs, and cleans 92
percent of the room.
||It’s the 21st century,
shouldn’t we be lolling around living a life of leisure while the
day-to-day drudgery is taken care of by robots? I, for one, wish it
would hurry up. My mother recently stopped accepting the weekly C.O.D.
FedEx packages filled with my laundry and someone needs to take care of
For years we were fed an image of the future—and
if today isn’t yesterday’s future then what is?—in which
automatons cook, clean, wash the dog, do the gardening, and either take
out the trash or eat it depending on which version you bought into. Of
course this would make our lives pure paradise. But it just hasn’t
happened, and it saddens me to think that all those years of reading Popular
Science and watching The Jetsons may have done nothing
more than given me false hopes. I sure hope Playboy doesn’t let
me down the same way.
Actually robots are being used, just not around
the house. They’re working hard in industry where they do things like
assemble cars, move product around warehouses, and count Bill Gates’
money. Meanwhile the mindless, super-efficient automatons we’re
supposed to have around the house are nowhere to be found. Unless, of
course, you count husbands when they agree to make love with only four
minutes left until the ball game starts on TV.
But don’t despair. Matsushita, the parent
company of Panasonic, recently demonstrated a vacuum-cleaning robot.
It’s the size of a basketball, runs for 55 minutes before needing a
recharge, and is expected to sell for a bargain basement $4,000.
That’s when it’s available, which they expect will be in two or
would all that new found leisure time be if we spent it feeling bad
because a hunk of metal and wires can wash windows better than we can?
Trading leisure time for therapy time is a lousy reason to create a
||And what do you get for
all that money? A machine that measures the room, vacuums the floor,
doesn’t bump into walls or fall down the stairs, and cleans 92 percent
of the room. That’s right, since it can’t vacuum around the edges
it’s only slightly better than a man doing the job. Not to mention
that it doesn’t contribute a penny towards the rent, can’t turn a
leaking faucet into a full blown plumber-driven bathroom renovation job,
and won’t get around to vacuuming for at least the next two years. And
you thought men have an inability to make a firm commitment! On the
other hand, vacuuming robots don’t burp, they somehow manage to find
their way around a room without using a map or arguing about whether to
stop and ask for directions, and they don’t require three days of
nagging to get around to doing their job. Plus they have an “Off”
switch. Come to think of it, men might not make it to see the second
half of the century.
Matushita is so confident about their new Almost
Does The Job™ technology that they’re planning to use it to create a
home security guard robot (“Stop or I’ll bump into your leg!”), a
babysitter robot (“Guaranteed not to drop the baby 92 percent of the
time”), and a robot that can take care of your elderly parents
(“Don’t feel bad, I don’t remember your model number either”).
It’s a beautiful new world ahead.
While at first glance it may seem that these less
than perfect robots are a sign that the technology is still in its
infancy, they’re actually created that way by design. Remember,
scientists have always patterned robots after living creatures, most
often humans, and face it, we’re far from the perfect organism. If we
were we wouldn’t get sick, we wouldn’t waste half our waking hours
doing the stupidest things imaginable in order to try to have sex, and Survivor:
Marquesas wouldn’t be a top-rated TV show. So why would you think
anything modeled after us would do a better-than-human job? Besides, why
would you want it to?
These would definitely make better pets than the Robofly, which
researchers at the University of California at Berkeley are creating
thanks to a $2.5 million government grant.
||Having lawn-mowing robots
which leave little patches of grass and vacuuming robots which forget to
clean under the couch makes us much more comfortable with them and less
liable to feel inferior. What good would all that new found leisure time
be if we spent it feeling bad because a hunk of metal and wires can wash
windows better than we can? Trading leisure time for therapy time is a
lousy reason to create a robot. Wanting a maintenance-free pet, on the
other hand, is a good reason.
Robot scientists quickly figured out that pets are
popular. Or perhaps it was the accountants. People get so attached to
them that when they die they freeze-dry them, try to clone them, and
publish newspaper obituaries for them. The pets, not the scientists or
accountants. It’s true. Once a month the Philadelphia Daily News
(motto: “Fewer calories than a cheese steak”) runs pet obituaries.
For $52.08 they’ll print a photograph and a few lines in memoriam.
This may have a healing effect, but you’d probably be better off
saving your money and putting it towards a robot pet.
Sony is already on their second-generation robot
dog. Named Aibo, it has four legs, a head, a
retractable headlight, 21 colored lights which “express feelings,” a
built-in digital camera, and the ability to obey 75 voice commands. It
costs $1,500 and doesn’t have a clue what a vacuum cleaner is.
There’s also a robo-cat named Tama, another bionic dog named
Poochi, and Necoro, a fur-covered Aibo wannabe that
responds to human emotions, learns its owner’s voice, recognizes its
name, and makes 48 different cat sounds when you step on its tail.
It’s a steal at $1,482. And no, it doesn’t do anything useful.
These would definitely make better pets than the
Robofly, which researchers at the University of California at Berkeley
are creating thanks to a $2.5 million government grant. This
43-milligram sun-powered robot actually has no reason for being created,
though the scientists feel certain that if they actually get it to work
they’ll figure out a use for it. And in case you prefer your pets to
live in a fish tank, the Navy is bankrolling the development of a
Robolobster at Northeastern University and
a Robopike at MIT.
Although we still have a few years to go until
robots are at our beck and call, it’s good to know scientists are
working on it. And that what they create won’t be too perfect.
Personally I’ll be happy just as long as the robo-maid can find all
the little piles of robo-poop the robo-pets leave on the floor. After
all, it may be a while before they create the robo-shoeshine boy, and
there’s nothing like dirty shoes to take the luster off paradise.
©2002 Mad Dog
Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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