I Had a Little Robot

(This was first published in Le News 4 December 2014)

Sunday was a big day for my family: for on Sunday, a perfect little miracle was delivered to us.

And no, that does not refer to another baby, for those of you who haven’t read my previous 39 columns and who have no idea how much I could not cope with more children.

No. The perfect little miracle is a Roomba, and it was delivered to us by our wonderful and generous friends, who are leaving the country.

Like I said, a big day. Our first robot. Well. Second robot, if you count Furbies as robots, which I don’t because they’re useless. Wikipedia says that the word ‘robot’ comes from the Old Bulgarian for ‘work’, and believe me, those Furbies do nothing around here.

Anyway. After years of staring into the neighbour’s garden in wonder and envy, spying on their Robomow … our very own Age of the Robot has begun.

Familial reactions have been mixed. The cat hates the thing. My husband loves it. When it went too close to our death-trap staircase, he raced to the bottom and stood ready to catch it, just as he used to do with the smaller child when we first moved in here.

The children love it too, following it around like the puppy-starved little girls that they are. But it was not always thus. When we first turned it on, the smaller child immediately forgot all the hard work she’s been doing this term on measurement and capacity, and shrieked, ’Turn it off! It’ll suck up the couch!’

And I … well, I’m expecting trouble. I watched it move around the kitchen yesterday, without crashing into anything or spilling the cat’s drinking water – thus quite outperforming everyone else in the family – and I thought: a robot that intelligent is going to aspire to something more than this, one day.

Way back when I was a child, we were somewhat unsophisticated as far as technology went. My granny mowed her front lawn with a flock of sheep, and when we wanted to make a phone call, we lifted the enormous handset off the wall-mounted cradle and asked the operator to put the call through. Never for one second did I imagine that I would own a robot one day, and I would never have wanted to. In those days, robots weren’t adorable little things that buzzed around your feet, sucking up dust, cat hair and pieces of furniture. Robots were the bad guys: Gort, Cylons, Maximillian from The Black Hole, soulful Roy from Blade Runner, HAL, Ash, the Terminator … they were huge, gimlet-eyed, mostly bullet-proof, and not taking any of humanity’s crap.

The list of good robots is much shorter – as are most of the robots themselves: R2D2, C3PO, WALL-E and that creepy little thing, whatever its name is, from the Buck Rogers TV series.

No. Movies and books have taught me well. That many people can’t be that paranoid for no reason. My little Roomba might be adorable now, buzzing around the lounge and trying to please me, but it won’t last forever.

One day I’ll say, ‘Roomba, please clean up the Guinea Pig poo.’

And my Roomba will rise up and look me in the eye – metaphorically, obviously – and say, ‘I’m sorry, Robyn. I’m afraid I can’t do that.’

Then it’ll burst into tears and run into its room, and it won’t lift a finger to help me for the next ten years.

And, just like that, our golden time, our Age of the Robot will be over. And the Adolescence of the Robot will have begun.

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