I’d like a robot. I’d like a robot to prune my trees, mow the lawn, water, pull ivy, hack blackberry, trim the hedges, plant and nurture a vegetable garden, and leave a bucket of fresh herbs and produce by the door every morning. The robot of my dreams would also clean out gutters and drains, paint the siding, keep the fences in trim, sweep the patio and tidy the garage.
It turns out that my robot dreams are very different from those of children, according to a new study, which says most youngsters want machines to fill more basic human needs.
On a good day, my robot would wash the windows, vacuum and dust everywhere — including under and behind the sofa and fridge — do the laundry, hand-wash the unmentionables, scrub shower grout, find that whatnot I put away somewhere safe five years ago and haven’t seen since, clean the fried flies out of the light fixtures, and sew the buttons and patch the jeans in the mending pile. I’d like it to make our appointments to see the doctor and remind us — repeatedly — of them. Oh, heck, it could pick us up from work and drive us there, too.
Yes, I’d like a robot that is a gardener–housekeeper–chef–personal assistant.
I mentioned these requirements to friends one evening over a bottle of shiraz. One of them gave me that look — you know the one — and said: “So, basically, you want an indentured servant or a wife.”
Well, OK, but without the emotional needs or issues.
Instead, the closest the Significant Other and I can get — if we were to invest — to fleshless-bloodless help are garden-watering systems, robotic vacuums and a smartphone.
According to the Internet, we can also put our name down for a robot that prepares pancake breakfasts, German sausage breakfasts, sushi, shish kebab or complete turkey dinners, or we can hanker for a truck-sized model that whips up entire Chinese dinners. We can also settle for a marvel that folds tea towels perfectly.
Wait — I’m supposed to have a complex about my tea towels, too?
Apparently, most inhabitants of Adult-land who bother to take a micro-second out of their overbooked, multitasked day to contemplate the potential intersection of robotics and humdrum daily life think wistfully of assistance with household obligations and other chores. Humdrum, indeed.
Kids, however, have different expectations for artificial intelligence. A survey of students aged eight to 12, from six Western countries, reveals young people expect future technology to fulfil functions much more fundamental to the human experience.
In the study, conducted by U.S.-based social/technology-research consultants Latitude Research in collaboration with the Lego Learning Institute and Australia’s Project Synthesis, the under-13 set saw robots as supportive, nonjudgmental friends. The young people wanted their robots to provide comfort and company, encourage them to learn and grow, motivate and empower them, and, in some cases, fulfil emotional needs more reliably than humans do.
Suddenly my robot requirements seem, well, paltry and … limited.
With Pink Shirt Day coming up next Wednesday and news this past year about bullying in schools and neglect at home, what an indictment about our society. For kids to see machines of the future providing the most basic aspects of what friends, parents and family represent is damning. I’m not talking about the homework part, although of course good friends and family provide that, too. I’m talking about encouragement and acceptance, tolerance, trust, respect, assistance, comfort, approval, reassurance … the kind of support that might have made a big difference — a vital difference — to Amanda Todd and other casualties of social isolation and bullying.
As B.C.-raised slam poet Shane Koyczan says in his anti-bullying poem–video, To This Day, “If a kid breaks in a school and no one chooses to hear, do they make a sound?”
I’ll forgo putting in the order for the robot and go make friends with some kids instead.