Sunday, March 01, 2009

An enlightened 21st century robot employer

I am no technophobe. This is the 21st century and I own a robot. It keeps my floor clean, not perfectly but adequately.

I can't help anthropomorphosizing (omg, a 20-letter word!) it. When I push its activation button, it make a cheery beeping sound and backs out of its charging unit all busy and anxious to get to work. It bumps around blindly as it crosses and recrosses the floor picking up bits of debris as it goes.

It's a rudimentary trial-and-error function but it's persistent enough to get the job done. I'm even forgiving of the occasional missed spots -- considering that it works more like a child's toy than an actual intelligent machine, I'm surprised it can deliver the results that it does.

I even worry for it when it starts to lose its charge. When that happens, it will home in on a radio signal the charging base sends out to guide it back to safety and sustenance. But it becomes a game of "hot and cold" as the robot continues to bump around the room trying to locate the signal, sometimes getting close only to be bumped away when it hits a wall or some other obstacle in its path. Will it ever make it back in time before its batteries deplete completely? It's painful to watch, and I have to resist the urge to pick it up and carry it home myself when at times it looks so hopelessly lost.

But so far, the only times it has failed to find its way home was once when we accidentally switched off the charging base (duh) and another time when it jammed on a dishrag that had inadvertently fallen to the floor. But otherwise, it's always been at the last minute able to find the correct vector and go home on its own. As it docks, it chirps its relief, then settles down for a nice quiet nosh until we call it out for duty again, usually the next day.

That's my little robot, my almost fifth pet. So if that's how I'm like with robots as an enlightened 21st century robot employer, then why does the US Army's "Big Dog" send a shiver of fear down my spine?

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