My Roomba, hard at work.
With the New Year I made a significant investment in a robot…yes, a robot. The Roomba vacuum cleaner, which can be seen to the right with more at irobot.com, is about as cute as R2D2, moves in a similar fashion and is just as much fun to watch. In these troubled times it is comforting to encounter something that simply does what it is says it will do.
And the joy of having a device that vacuums while I do other things…well, that is priceless. Even now, as I type, Roomba is working her magic, clipping along at a fairly good pace, gently tapping against various obstacles and moving on, finding dirt and dog hair all over my tiny Florida home. In the spring it will travel to North Carolina with me and work its wonder on the 80 foot modular home on Fawn Hill. That will be a real workout for it and I have no doubt she will shine.
Regardless of where I hang my hat, living with a cat and an Australian Shepherd (or, as I sometimes call him, my Australian Shedder) has its problems. Tango, my Aussie, has “blowouts” at seasonal points in the year creating a different form of a “bomb cyclone.” Huge welts of discarded fur will join together and waft across the floor, collecting under beds and tables. In these times it becomes necessary to vacuum every day. So boring but so necessary. Now I can just turn on Roomba (I can even do so via my iPhone!) and away she goes…no complaints, no heavy sighs, just a dedication to get the job done. Now that’s Making America Great Again!
It is amazing but is it a harbinger of darker forces? Will the Roomba that is so dedicated to cleaning floors someday rise up against its master and make demands? More rest periods? Better attention paid to its need for periodic cleanings? Less space to clean? Of course not. But the role of robots and artificial intelligence (AI) in our society is raising concerns. Just as my Roomba may put some maid services out of business so too, on a far grander scale, AI may contribute to the loss of many, many jobs in the future. Robots are already performing tasks that once employed people. Robots can build cars, perform surgical operations, drive cars, sort items, and appear as true-to-life models of American presidents at Walt Disney World.
Politico Magazine has recently written about the coming change in an article entitled “How Robots Will Break Politics.” (https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/01/05/robots-politics-automation-technology-216220) It’s a good read and helps explain these extraordinary times in which we live. Ryan Avent writes, “Long before we find ourselves dealing with malevolent AIs or genetically engineered superhumans, and perhaps just 10 to 20 years from now, we will have to deal with the threat technology poses to our social order—and to our politics.”
That seems inevitable and given the dismal state of our political affairs I know there are many people who will cry, “Bring it on!” The next decade will be tumultuous with many changes to social institutions as well as political. I don’t know how I feel about all that but I sure love my Roomba. Watching her work is almost mesmerizing. It can, for a few minutes, make you forget the chaos and clamor that is all around. Watching Roomba…a 21st Century meditation exercise. It’s getting weird folks. ❖