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Learning to Love Robots (New Yorker Edition)


#1

“In 2008, I fell in love with a robot. The object of my affection was a darling red Roomba vacuum cleaner. The size and shape of a chunky Frisbee, it bustled to and fro across my apartment of its own volition, enabling me to eat my cake and drop it on the floor, too. I worried that the neighbors downstairs might be bothered by the noise, but, actually, I didn’t worry that much. It was the hum of industry and the sound of the legs of the yellow table being bashed. I marvelled at my Roomba’s work ethic and adored its lack of self-esteem. Studies have demonstrated that humans are disposed to ascribe emotions and intentions to anything that moves, including a piece of balsa wood controlled by a joystick, so perhaps it was not surprising that, when my Roomba got stuck under the sofa, I rushed to liberate it with the Swiffer stick. When it ate dental floss and its caster wheel wouldn’t spin, I blamed myself. I’ve read that some kooky people name their Roombas or take them to work or on vacation. I’ve done none of these things, though occasionally, like Mozart’s father showing off his prodigy son at the harpsichord, I’ve forced my dinner guests to watch my little helper suck up hors-d’œuvres debris from a patch of rug.”


#2

For me this quote sums up the main point of what his article had to offer:
"As Rodney Brooks, the co-founder of iRobot and the inventor of the Roomba’s software control system, recently wrote to me (the author) via e-mail, “The physical appearance of a robot makes a promise about its capabilities. If that promise is not met by the reality of what it can do, then there will be disappointment.”


#3

I’d love to hear what promises folks feel that Misty’s physical appearance is making.


#4

@Donna, to respond to your question in a way that makes sense to me. Based on Misty’s physical appearance I’m inferring the following set of characteristics. I also want to point out that it’s much easier to react and build on someone else’s response than to be the first to reply. I invite people to add to, modify or disagree with any characteristics I list.
To me, Misty II’s appearance suggests the following to me. She is, in no particular order, determined, hard-working, engaging, capable, solid, mobile, physically stable, wanting to communicate with those around her, and possessing spindly arms that don’t look very functional. Misty II also comes over as neither soft nor cuddly.


#5

Ha, I admire your willingness to step up to the challenge @BoulderAl! And I find your list really interesting, though I will not call out specifics as I don’t want to bias other responders. Looking forward to hearing more impressions…