My son-in-law can’t stop talking about that movie Ex Machina, where sexy robots are going to take over the world—robots that are seductive and have bodies like Kim Kardashian, robots who will dupe middle-aged men into thinking they’ve found true love. But who cares? (Let me say up front that I, for one, plan to stick with my wife, regardless of the sexy robots coming off the assembly line.)
I keep reading about how robots are going to inherit the earth and artificial intelligence will surpass human intelligence pretty soon. I should confess that it won’t take too much effort for them to outperform my feeble intellect. I can’t even beat my iPad at checkers, cribbage or backgammon so for me, the future is grim. But I’ll be content as long as they can balance my checkbook.
Technology, we’re often told, holds the secret to the future and will cure what ails us, but sometimes I think technology is what ails us.
You see it everywhere. Toddlers have their own cell phones and apps for their tablets. Most kids today don’t even know there’s a world outside that God created, waiting to be explored, because they’d rather stare at a computer screen all day and inhabit a world of virtual reality instead of real reality.
I got an unsettling glimpse into the future recently when I attended a conference about caring for the elderly, where one of the experts gave a slide presentation that explained the new technology being designed to help seniors, including an affordable family robot.
Some of the people at the session were convinced that robots will take over the world, and when you consider the mess we’ve made of it, that might not be such a bad thing. If the robots get out of hand, I suppose we can always decommission them, assuming they don’t decommission us first, which according to a small but growing group of thinkers, who include Bill Gates, may be a very real possibility. (And you can be sure that when the robots are in charge, they won’t spend their time taking selfies to post on Instagram.)
The family healthcare robots I saw at the conference sell for a little over $500 and are coming soon to stores near you. They will be marketed as the ideal companion for humans. They already have healthcare robots like this in Japan, where they fulfill a social need for lonely people.
The robot looked somewhat like a small wastepaper basket with a large eye like a Cyclops. He had a cute robotic voice like the kind you hear in Pixar movies. He whirled and twirled, and performed family chores. He could also take pictures and give consoling bedtime messages to the kiddies.
He was an amusing little fellow, and I thought that if I got a Christmas bonus I might consider buying him for my wife and dog so we could play robot games together. My wife loves to play Scrabble and the dog loves to play fetch, so there were several opportunities for a robot to fit in with the family and become one of the gang.
Since he doesn’t have arms, however, I’m not sure he could throw the tennis ball to play fetch. I’m also worried because the dog is less tolerant than I am and might try to bite his little robot head. You see, she can’t get along with people so the prospect of her befriending a robot seems a bit unlikely.
Plus, I’m not sure how good he’d be as a caregiver.
I do know this. My wife and family wouldn’t want me to have healthcare robots like that sexy robot in Ex Machina, even though I’m sure my son-in-law would argue in my defense.
At the conference, there was also a presentation about a physician avatar who could talk to patients and quiz them about whether they took their medication. The man in the video had no problem carrying on a conversation with a cartoonish character that looked like Aunt Bea from Andy Griffith in her early years. But for the life of me, I couldn’t imagine what my father would have done if we planted a computer monitor by his bed and had some cartoon pop up from time to time to nag him about taking his pills… even though I’m sure my mother would have loved an avatar to remind him to cut the lawn and put his dirty clothes in the laundry.
On the other hand, if he had a personal robot, he could get out of those chores and head to the beach with his binoculars.
By Joe Pisani
Joe Pisani, a journalist for 30 years, approaches life with wisdom and wit. He writes frequently for ACT TWO. His most recent pieces for ACT TWO include Age Better with Positive Thinking, The Silver Tsunami, Grandpa? Pappy? What’s in a Name? , When It Comes to Love, It’s a Dog’s World and La Dolce Vita Americana.